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Productivity Strategies for Small Businesses

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By James Pruitt, Senior Staff Writer

To stay effective, businesses need to investigate methods to streamline operations. Various techniques save time and energy when getting your company or organization above ground. These include organizational methods to streamline project management, information retrieval, employee communication, and decision-making processes.

1) Project Management:

Business cycles rarely flow with perfect routines and without bumps in the road. At times, seasonal cycles control the ebb and flow of resources of even the most stable businesses.  As a result, skillful project management must tackle the unpredictable trials that break the rhythms of even the most stable institutions.

In some cases, the same project rolls around each year. In these cases, project management systems can facilitate review and record-keeping. Applications like Asana can help create plans for these periodic bumps in the road, facilitating the delegation and simplification of tasks.

In other cases, a specific circumstance may arise, and a company has a new dragon to slay. In order to tackle such unforeseeable bumps in the road, organizations should retain the flexibility to mobilize. Cross-training can help employees take on diverse tasks within the company as needed. Also, keeping business operations flexible may allow wiggle-room for novel situations as they arise.

2) Good Information Management and Storage, aka a Good Filing System:

Even before the age of computers, any secretary could describe the benefits of a good filing system. Effective companies need to stay organized. Lost documents and jumbled service can destroy a company’s reputation. 

Applications like Airtable can help organize various documents and spreadsheets. Online applications can supplement well-thought-out systems within the office to ensure information is stored effectively and retrievably.

3) Employee Feedback and Communication:

The workers on the front lines are often the first to know when the first hits arise of a dire new issue. Worker feedback is essential. Proprietary software should include space for comments by operators, and management should take these comments seriously. Open-door policies should allow the rank-and-file to raise issues when appropriate. 

Companies should stay vertically integrated to ensure that the leadership and the rank-and-file stay on the same page. This way, problems are less likely to snowball before they reach the attention of management. Applications like Dropbox can ensure communication between various members of the team.

4) Decision Making: Streamlined Approval for New Initiatives:

How can we define “bureaucracy?” Sometimes, layers of middle management calcify into a concrete wall between innovation and leadership. Hence, skillful oversight protects businesses from careless decisions. Approval processes must be strict, quick, and effective.

A calcified bureaucracy in a large organization can stymie the best-laid plans. Careful scrutiny of processes ensures that only the best products and services go to market. Smaller organizations often struggle to maintain quality in the face of limited resources. Given restrictions in size and resources, the problem for Veteran Business Owners often is not bureaucracy, but lack of oversight.

Several workflow applications, such as Shift, can channel tasks to employees’ inboxes. Such applications can allow workers to arrive in the morning ready to tackle their workload independently.

Overall, productivity strategies should vary with the type of organization. However, the above four considerations can guide management across industries in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors. In other words, both newfangled technological approaches and old-fashion office management techniques can help prune time-wasting redundancies from a Veteran Business Owner’s workday.

 

VAMBOA, the Veterans and Military Business Owners Association hope that this article has not only been valuable but provided some unique perspective.  We work hard to bring you important, positive, helpful, and timely information and are the “go-to” online venue for Veteran and Military Business Owners.  VAMBOA is a non-profit trade association.   We do not charge members any dues or fees and members can also use our seal on their collateral and website.   If you are not yet a member, you can register here:  

https://vamboa.org/member-registration/

We also invite you to check us out on social media too.

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/vamboa

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/VAMBOA

Do not forget that VAMBOA members receive significant discounts on technology needs.   Check them out here: https://vamboa.org/dell-technologies/ 

 

By James Pruitt, Senior Staff Writer

Who knew? Labor and supply shortages are creating havoc and cursing small businesses now more than ever, especially in the wake of reopening. Behemoths such as Amazon and Walmart have their safety nets. Smaller establishments must struggle with what they have. As a result, gaps in service plague the reputations and growth of their smaller counterparts.

Unfortunately for Veteran Business Owners, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 8.1 million job openings at the end of March, a new record. The pandemic only exacerbated a preexisting trend, and the reasons vary. 

Suggestions have included a lack of training opportunities, supercharged unemployment benefits, a mismatched skill set, and fear due to the pandemic for many. Whatever the cause, a shortage of qualified workers has left employers in the lurch despite a continuously shrinking workforce.

Gaps in service are a result, often leaving angry customers. This anger often shows up online. These days, an online presence can make or break a company. Angry reviews can pose real threats to a struggling business.

The trend nowadays is for buyers overwhelmingly to check their business’ online presence. How can business owners minimize angry diatribes on forums such as Yelp, Bing, Google My Business, and Facebook? Small employers are finding themselves trapped between the rock of the labor shortage and the hard place of customer satisfaction. The best short-term fix is better communication.

Business owners should build trust with their client base. Patrons should understand that they can work with the management of a company. These kinds of positive working relationships best protect smaller businesses from online reputational issues, which may leave business owners feeling helpless in their marketing efforts. Good working relationships often rest on a foundation of good communication, one of the variables that managers may control in this economic environment.

Methods of communication may vary. Updating profiles on relevant online business platforms is an easy first step. The business’s profiles on the above online platforms should provide up-to-date hours and terms of service. When possible, these sites should also include explanations for any changes in these terms. Additionally, a business owner should address any negative reviews directly as soon as possible.

Some verbal strategies can improve the outcome of discussions with a dissatisfied customer. For example, first, the person in charge should remain calm during a confrontation. Second, active listening can demonstrate that the manager understands the grievance.  Active listening methods generally emphasize engagement in the discussion. In other words, managers should not remain passive targets in these matters. One such technique may involve rephrasing the complaints in a manner that demonstrates a genuine understanding of the customer’s issues with their service. 

Finally, management should demonstrate their understanding of the weight of the problem and if possible, let the customer know the relevant steps for resolving such issues in the future.

Early communication with dissatisfied customers may prevent escalation or even an angry Yelp review. Overall, the goal is a synergy between the needs of the client and the capacities of the owner. During these novel times, business owners should engage any necessary communication techniques to achieve a meeting of the minds that leaves all parties satisfied and at peace.

VAMBOA, the Veterans and Military Business Owners Association hopes that this article has not only been valuable but provided some unique perspective.  We work hard to bring you important, positive, helpful, and timely information and are the “go to” online venue for Veteran and Military Business Owners.  VAMBOA is a non-profit trade association.   We do not charge members any dues or fees and members can also use our seal on their collateral and website.   If you are not yet a member, you can register here:  

https://vamboa.org/member-registration/

We also invite you to check us out on social media too.

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/vamboa

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/VAMBOA

Do not forget that VAMBOA members receive significant discounts on technology needs.   Check them out here: https://vamboa.org/dell-technologies/ 

Self-Marketing for Entrepreneurs

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By James Pruitt, Senior Staff Writer

Marketing is its own field within the business world. Specialists in marketing often come out of school with vast coursework and little experience. The generalities acquired by “professional marketers” often fail entrepreneurs seeking their niche in the economy. 

Every company is different. Each entrepreneur likely has their own set of values, as well as their own understanding of the niche of the economy they seek to occupy. Outsiders may provide guidelines and principles, but the core of a marketing strategy must come from the source of the business idea itself. Successful marketing ultimately comes from within.

Remember the sitcom Family Ties from the eighties? Consider the episode “The Spirit of Columbus.” In a classic standoff between money-obsessed Alex P. Keaton and his opposite, the artist Nick, Alex usurps Nick’s greatest artistic triumph and markets the sculpture “in volume” as home decor. In several fabulous colors to boot. 

These days, marketers rely largely on online strategies. Professional marketers know the web, social media, and other such channels. Entrepreneurs know their own hearts and the goals of their companies. Efforts of marketers fall impotent absent coordination with the leadership of their clients. Consider the ongoing lament of online gamers in the face of recent waves of offbeat, sometimes offensive marketing campaigns. “Why do they do this? The game is nothing like that!”

Entrepreneurs do their best to market themselves, often with advice from ad agencies. Marketers should stick to their roles. These days, marketers do have irreplaceable functions on the online and social media fronts. However, unless the marketer and entrepreneur are one and the same, no one can sell that great idea better than its originator. A marketer can filter the idea. A marketer can find the right channels. However, no one can express the idea’s heart and soul better than the entrepreneur themself.

There are strategies that business owners can use to market themselves. First, no matter the niche product or service, business owners should make their outreach efforts personable. Sometimes, a little creativity can liven up not only the brand but even the lives of its patrons. Perhaps the Michelin man can be an example. The iconic 120-year-old character is as old as the company itself. Over the years he has evolved from grease-monkey to symbol of fine dining. The Michelin brothers needed no marketing agency to accomplish that.

Second, entrepreneurs should ensure focus on their fundamental message. Marketing ideas should have organic roots in the core ideas of the company. Whatever the original focus of a business venture, a marketing campaign should beam this inspiration into their target clientele with laser intensity. A “meeting of the minds” does wonders between owners and clientele, at least in the early stages. Third-party marketers have the potential to complicate this process. Business owners should always stay in control of their message, at least until the enterprise diversifies and becomes too complex.

In the end, business owners should never allow third parties to market their idea in far-off directions, at least in the early stages. Marketers have their place and their own expertise, especially in the age of social media and other forms of online exposure. However, while the business owner provides the capital, the business owner provides the leadership. When the visionary separates from the vision, only broken dreams loom on the horizon.

VAMBOA, the Veterans and Military Business Owners Association hope that this article has not only been valuable but provided some unique perspective.  We work hard to bring you important, positive, helpful, and timely information and are the “go-to” online venue for Veteran and Military Business Owners.  VAMBOA is a non-profit trade association.   We do not charge members any dues or fees and members can also use our seal on their collateral and website.   If you are not yet a member, you can register here:  https://vamboa.org/member-registration/

We also invite you to check us out on social media too.

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/vamboa

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/VAMBOA

Do not forget that VAMBOA members receive significant discounts on technology needs.   Check them out here: https://vamboa.org/dell-technologies/ 

Pricing to Stay Competitive

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By James Pruitt, Senior Staff Writer

Inflation has become a growing concern as cash has flowed into consumer’s hands following the outset of coronavirus. In theory, businesses should increase prices, especially as labor becomes more expensive. In fact, the economy is more chaotic and unpredictable. Business owners should consider sound realities before they jump to conclusions about how to price their products in the post-pandemic economy.

As discussed in previous blog posts, the pandemic sent the trend toward online consumerism into overdrive. Consumers know they can now resort to online sources that maintain a low overhead. This development bodes poorly for “brick and mortar” stores. Unfortunately for such establishments, the balance of power may continue to shift in the direction of online consumers.

What can a small business owner just out of the military and looking to apply their newfound skills do, especially in this strange new economy? Fortunately, many strategies can simplify marketing efforts.

  • First, human interactions, in general, have become more online over the past few decades. The possible end of the Pandemic will not change this trajectory. During the Pandemic, online interactions only became more sophisticated and established. websites and social media have only gained importance. Every economic participant, including veteran business owners, should become more Internet savvy. 
  • Second, unpredictable shifts in price can leave entrepreneurs unprepared. Given confusing shifts in the economy, business owners should understand current market circumstances in the here and now. For this reason, entrepreneurs should stay vigilant about direct competitors. Confusion may arise from assumptions and inaccurate predictions from the media. Mindfulness about the here and now should prevail.

“Staying vigilant” does not mean cutthroat behavior. “Staying vigilant” means an understanding of a ballpark range for goods and services catering to your specific clientele. Everyone benefits from some level of cooperation. Consider networking groups or your local Chamber of Commerce. Of course, backstabbing tactics only draw the worst kinds of attention.

Learning spreadsheets can help new business owners compare themselves most accurately to rivals in the current, uncharted online market. Microsoft Excel, as well as Apple Numbers and Google Sheets, may provide tools to compare prices with similar online marketers. 

  • Third, new business owners should consider their own costs and capacities. Many analysts divide these costs between variable and fixed costs. “Variable” costs shift with demand and changes in the economy. “Fixed” costs may include contractual obligations such as overhead, payroll, and the costs of maintaining websites. The goals and resources of the business owner may determine the outcome.
  • Fourth, consider profit margin and your own economic needs. Profit margin tends to vary by industry. Usually, profit margin consists of the difference between the cost of maintenance and the income from sales. Great damage can occur when the owner has invested heavily in the business, and profit margins stay low. A home business may need only a low-profit margin, and a restaurant or auto shop inevitably requires a much higher one, due to the cost of equipment.
  • Fifth, underpricing may ruin a business. Many entrepreneurs try to achieve brand recognition through discounts, sales, and cheap products. Misguided attempts at market penetration can leave consumers turning their noses when entrepreneurs need to raise prices to simply pay the bills. 

In short, pricing depends largely on the circumstances of the business owner. Generally, higher investments in overhead and equipment necessitate much more careful analysis. Always, the best price for a product or service depends on the relevant market. Hairbrained schemes such as underpricing rarely serve anyone. Veteran Business Owners need to balance their own circumstances and those of any other market participants, including clients and competitors. 

VAMBOA, the Veterans and Military Business Owners Association hope that this article has not only been valuable but provided some unique perspective.  We work hard to bring you important, positive, helpful, and timely information and are the “go-to” online venue for Veteran and Military Business Owners.  VAMBOA is a non-profit trade association.   We do not charge members any dues or fees and members can also use our seal on their collateral and website.   If you are not yet a member, you can register here:  

https://vamboa.org/member-registration/

We also invite you to check us out on social media too.

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/vamboa

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/VAMBOA

Do not forget that VAMBOA members receive significant discounts on technology needs.   Check them out here:

https://vamboa.org/dell-technologies/ 

 

Advice for Prospective Consultants

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By James Pruitt, Senior Staff Writer

Technology has sparked a boon in self-employment, and thus a spike in interest in consultant work. More and more people have discovered an interest in transforming their special knowledge or passion into a career path advising other business people.

But what does “consultancy” mean? What qualifies a consultant, exactly? The definition is straightforward; a “consultant” is simply “a person who provides expert advice professionally,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

A “contractor” is widely understood as a worker whose main relationship is not with the organization itself. A “temp” is a person whose relationship has a set time-limit with a company. But as for “consultant,” the definition is much more fluid. The nature of the position depends on the knowledge and talent the consultant has to offer, as well as the demand. Hence the independence of the consultant, as well as the increasing desirability of the career path.

Technology has revolutionized outreach for newcomers to the field. Networking is often the greatest challenge, and the internet has multiplied opportunities to sell one’s wares. Whether through social media, websites, or directed email marketing, with the proper expertise and talent, a new consultancy firm can start from the comfort of one’s home.

Various Considerations Stand Out for A Prospective Consultant:

1) Most important, a prospective job- seeker should consider their qualifications. A consultant must have the expertise, credentials, and education to advise their clients properly. Part of remaining qualified is staying up to date on current news and trends within the field.

2) Organization is crucial to maintaining an independent practice. Consultants are generally independent business people. As such, the new business-owner must have the self-discipline to plan their day and manage their time. Keeping records and managing workflow must be done independently and efficiently.

3) Many fields recommend special licensing and certification. For example, companies may expect a specialist in a certain software to receive certification by the manufacturer of that software. On the other hand, such certification is not likely necessary for a more general specification.

4) Networking is important. As a free agent, a new consultant will need to build contacts to bring in work and stay at the top of their field.

5) Consultants must set goals. These goals should stay realistic with the requisite time, resources, and energy needed to build such a business.

Demand abounds for consultants in many fields. In 1997 US businesses spent over $12 billion on consultants, according to the Association of Professional Consultants in Irvine, In 2019, the United States was the world’s largest management consulting market. In that year, management consulting services were valued at approximately 71.2 billion U.S. dollars.  The global management consulting market was valued at 160 billion U.S. dollars in 2019.  According to Statista.com   This is extraordinary growth in this industry.

Anyone can work as a consultant these days. Nothing limits the scope a consultant’s practice other than their talents and passions. The trick is to recognize a marketable niche in one’s background and repertoire of skills. Perhaps during of years of volunteer experience, the new consultant has developed expertise in event-planning or public relations. Perhaps a computer enthusiast can put their years of tinkering to use in the IT field. Whatever the worker’s experience or niche, for an in-demand skill, a drive and passion for excellence is the key to success.   With the pandemic and the new normal, more companies will rely on consultants.

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