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Inventory Backlogs: Prevention Part One of Two

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By James Pruitt, Senior Staff Writer

Vast deposits of excess stock can leave small business owners bewildered or perplexed in the wake of a “failed” marketing attempt. Remember, excess inventory generally has some value to someone. However, prevention generally spares entrepreneurs storage expenses and manufacturing costs. 

Whatever happened to the Avon Lady? Multilevel marketing schemes are back with a vengeance. These companies can famously leave a garage full of excess merchandise. But what about the tribulations of small business owners who manufacture their own products?

As a general principle, unused products are a liability for small businesses. Such products gain the moniker of “deadstock” after collecting cobwebs in the back shelves of warehouses.

The Pandemic has brought fluxes in inventory to all sectors of the economy. Supply chain disruptions have plagued the worldwide economy since March of 2020. Skeleton crews on all fronts have left companies alternately oversupplied or undersupplied, even as demand has mushroomed since the early part of this year.

Inventory shortages are nothing new. First, demand fluctuates naturally due to a variety of market forces. Fashions move forward, circumstances change, and consumer needs oscillate accordingly. 

Second, businesses sometimes rush to meet demand. In the process, quality may suffer, leading consumers to search elsewhere. Over-eager business owners sometimes churn out subpar products to meet demand. The result leaves the owner in the lurch for storage and disposal. No one wants a trove of shoddy “skinny jeans” manufactured in 2008, especially in 2021.

Third, some businesses may lack effective inventory management systems. Internal operations may well disrupt a good balance between different types of products. Good online inventory management programs may include Fishbowl, Netsuite, and Quickbooks, although options for businesses are vast, and may include proprietary options as well. Also, consider the everyday operations of a company outside the computer system.

Fourth, the business may be marketing one product at the expense of another. Marketing resources may gravitate in one direction, based upon the expertise or biases of the company staff. Leadership on hand may know more about one product than another. Sometimes leadership and staff simply prefer one product over another. Such cases may simply present a human resources challenge.  Enthusiasts of one type of product on the marketing front may compensate for an oversupply of fans of another.

Finally, one person’s trash is another’s treasure. Remember that disastrous ET video game from the early eighties? Most ended up in a landfill. The landfill was excavated, and some collectors of vintage arcade games paid over $1000 for cartridges of a terrible but historically significant video game. Even in most cases of overstock, hope remains.

Best practice avoids excess supplies of unmarketable products from the outset. However, as with most of life’s problems, excess inventory is often unavoidable. With the resurgence of multilevel marketing, overstock has reached new levels in some quarters. However, certain business practices have long resulted in inventory imbalances, even before the Pandemic. 

In Part I of this two-part series, we examined strategies to prevent excess deadstock, to begin with. In Part 2, we will examine strategies to dispose of excess inventory, online and otherwise once such stock inevitably accumulates.

VAMBOA, the Veterans and Military Business Owners Association hope that this article of this two-part series 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

The Pandemic has given us the term “the New Normal.” The new “work-from-home” paradigm also entails the term “Digital Nomad.” Are “Digital Nomads” synchronous with “the New Normal?” Many define “Digital Nomads” as workers with the independence to produce anywhere, anytime. 

“The New Normal” developed at the outbreak of the Pandemic, only a year and a half ago, and provides workers the flexibility to work at home as necessary. “Digital Nomads” are nothing new. However, these “extreme” remote workers have seen their roles expand and develop considerably during this period.

A few small countries have even started allowing “digital nomad” visas for workers who want to “work in paradise.” These countries include Bermuda, Mauritius, and Montserrat, as well as several European countries. But is a “digital nomad” really the same as a hybrid worker? Let’s flesh this out.

Who are Digital Nomads?

“Digital Nomads” live out-of-reach of their office headquarters. Younger workers, as well as retirees, have increasingly adopted these arrangements. Many employers have decided to focus on output rather than “presenteeism” Such arrangements have even become more common indirect employer-employee relationships, and are no longer the sole domain of freelancers and casual workers.

Communication Issues

Such an arrangement could be perfect for many business relationships. Other relationships, not so much. Good candidates for “digital nomads” may include creative workers using their own resources, as well as positions with limited client contact. Such “extreme” remote positions should allow relative independence from management. 

“Digital nomads” are not people who need detailed instruction in office processes. Oftentimes, such workers are creative workers who function successfully as their own mobile small businesses. Workers who might need to be called into the office periodically are not good candidates for “remote work visas.”

For example, in some cases, an employer may require a worker’s presence in an in-person client meeting. Successful employers and contractors foresee these demands before committing to arrangements such as, for example, procurement of a remote work visa.

Security Issues

Employers should consider possible security breaches when considering the scope of remote relationships. Some workers may have access to secure information. These workers may need a closer relationship with their home base. For example, each device containing secure information presents a security risk. Assuming the presence of sensitive information, loose monitoring of such devices is bad practice.

Expenses for Remote Work Visas

A visa for “working in paradise” generally costs several hundred dollars for the visa itself as well as proof of income. “Paradise” can include diverse remote island countries as well as several European countries including Germany, Portugal, Iceland, and Croatia. Each country offers its own price for the visa itself, in addition to income thresholds levels to prove robust links with the employer.

“Hybrid Workers” versus “Digital Nomads

Business owners should distinguish between workers who might qualify for “hybrid roles” and workers who might become full-blown “Digital Nomads.” “Digital Nomads” can work in far remote locations with no physical contact with management. The employee’s role should be established and meticulously carved out before initiating an entirely remote arrangement. 

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/ 

Online Security Tips

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By James Pruitt, Senior Staff Writer

No company is a fortress, least of all small businesses. However, threats from outside are very real. Outside hackers as well as internal saboteurs can ruin a company. As the Internet comes of age, the good business practice requires that business people grow in sophistication just as the motley crew of potential scammers does the same.

1) Relationships with Employees

Creating a culture of security can save a business. One data breach can ruin a company. Access to a company’s online records merits careful consideration.

On an ongoing basis, workers should receive education about the dangers of online interlopers. Not every computer operator may understand even basic security concepts, such as the dangers of opening attachments. Periodic security courses can refresh employees’ knowledge regarding outside scammers, and the education can even benefit the employee in the long term.

At the very least, measures should be taken to ensure the separation of online life between work and home.  The use of workplace confidential information on unsecured home devices could make easy marks for scammers hungry for confidential information they can sell online.

Assuming the employee has an email account, the employee should know the basics of online scams such as “phishing,” fake online antivirus scams, and any of a host of more insidious schemes that may install malware or spyware onto company computers. Here is a link to some of the most common scams: https://uk.norton.com/internetsecurity-online-scams-5-most-popular-scams-in-2020.html.

Additionally, former employees commonly defraud small businesses with the information they carry off from the worksite. Employers should be as realistic about their own needs as they are about their relationship with their workers. As employees leave the team, their logins should be deleted immediately. Password management software may help with this process. Applications such as Dashlane or Lastpass may prove invaluable in managing IT aspects of any sort of offboarding.

In any case, good business practice demands (1) careful education of employees regarding good security practices, and (2) consideration of the terms of employee separation.  

2) Consider Industry Standards: Different Industries may have Different Forms of Sensitive Information

Some businesses may handle specialized information subject to unique legal requirements. For example, medical records may constitute PHI (Personal Health Information). In such cases, contracting businesses need to adopt practices under HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) to ensure compliance. These practices may include seemingly extreme measures including computer privacy screens, injunctions against in-office cell phones, and measures to keep medical records out of the open air. Such measures may seem silly but are important for small businesses contracting with medical organizations that handle protected health information (PHI). Violations of HIPAA may range from medical ridicule to identity theft. These violations may also result in any range of consequences from jail time to monetary fines.

Other similar privacy laws may include the Family Educational and Privacy Act (FERPA). Many smaller businesses handle confidential information under FERPA and HIPAA. Protection of such information is crucial and may require special training under each statute.

3) The “Right” Security Expertise

Many companies now outsource their information technology needs. As these companies become more affordable, Veteran Business Owners should research IT services that best fit their niche. Many independent companies specialize. For example, legal, medical, and educational IT companies may provide the right expertise for various relevant companies. The expertise of such companies may provide crucial expertise for the unique logistical and legal demands of smaller companies handling sensitive online information.

Finding the right security software can present another problem. The tricky landscape of online security can daunt the most discerning business managers. Some online security applications are outright scams. Others may not quite provide the necessary airtight protection against the most skillful breaches. Many small businesses find larger, established companies such as Norton satisfactory. Others choose to do their own research.

The Bottom Line

In sum, honesty and common sense should prevail in the management of company information. The most sensitive information may include private customer information, gatekeeping data such as passwords, and internal proprietary information hidden within company records. In fact, the standard should be airtight security whenever possible, rather than mere due diligence.

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/

Emergency Utility Shutoffs for Business Owners

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By James Pruitt, Senior Staff Writer

Shutoffs can ruin businesses when bills are not paid. However, business owners may need to shut off services as emergencies arise. Climate change has increased the frequency of weather events, and events of the past year highlight the challenges of social change as well.

One advantage of a small business is the ability to adapt better than larger organizations. As such, Veteran Small Business Owners should plan for survival in tragic situations. 

Shutting off Electricity:

Weather events could bring a host of problems for the electrical grid. Businesses might need to close due to a variety of local climatic phenomena. Windstorms, brush fires, and snowstorms could each render transportation systems unusable, preventing the involvement of utility companies and first responders. An earthquake could damage the wiring in the business structure itself. 

The first contact in a natural disaster should be the electric company. Use extreme caution before tampering with electrical equipment. Hopefully, an on-site maintenance person can handle any issues. 

Only a worst-case scenario warrants the presence of an untrained small business owner in the utility room. In such a case, wait for instructions from the electric company or fire department. However, shutting off the electricity is actually fairly straightforward. Just remember the danger absent proper safety precautions. First, make sure the power is off. A voltage tester can accomplish this task. Then, switch all circuit breakers to the off position. Finally, do the same to the main circuit or fuse.

Never perform these tasks in the case of flooding. Avoid water in contact with electrical equipment. In such a case, the electric company is the best contact for the long-term resolution of the problem.

Shutting off Gas

As with electricity, the gas should only be turned off on the advice of the utility company or the fire department. Once the gas is turned off, wait for a professional to turn the gas back on. However, everyone should at least know how to turn off the main valve.

The scent of natural gas should be a red flag, as should the sounds of hissing and blowing. Each could indicate a leak. The main shutoff valve, often called the street-side valve, is generally where the main pipe first enters the building, just before the gas meter. A tool such as a wrench is usually necessary in such a circumstance. Additional shutoff valves may be located near any appliances that utilize gas.

Generally, gas companies don’t want consumers tampering with their equipment. Small business owners should only resort to such measures after outright instructions from the company or the fire department. A natural disaster may provide the context for such a situation.

Shutting off Water

Natural disasters may often involve flooding. Dangers from flooding may extend well beyond the water damage to physical property. Contact with electrical equipment could create a deathtrap.

Additionally, turning off the water protects from contamination, and ensures that clean water won’t drain through damaged water lines. In fact, business owners are well-advised to turn off the water during periods of vacancy.

As with gas, the main shutoff valve maybe near the meter. Proprietors may find the meter outside the house or in a basement area. A plumber may help locate the correct meter for use in emergencies. Never confuse the water meter with the gas meter. 

Again, as with gas, individual shutoff valves may be located near appliances that use water, such as refrigerators, toilets, and sinks. These valves are useful whenever these appliances need repairs.

Overall Safety Considerations

Always consider the safety ramifications of tampering with gas and electricity. Generally, only professionals should handle these utilities. Given an emergency or natural disaster, the fire department or utility company should give the green light before the involvement of a layperson. However, an understanding of the gas and electrical systems could come in handy in the event these services become unavailable. 

Smaller businesses have the advantage of tighter understanding and control over their instrumentalities. This understanding should include the last resort in the case of emergencies and disasters. Given changes in the social and environmental fabric, such events may only increase over time.

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/ 

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