Saturday, December 12, 2009

Welcome To St. Louis in 2020

Welcome to the Year 2020. You might not recognize St. Louis much these days, but the region is thriving. Jobs and industries continue to pop up. 10 years ago many of our local leaders rallied together and focused on four primary initiatives. Our leaders and our region focused mainly on these initiatives. Here's how we did it:
1. Focused on Education: Back in 1999, only 24.5% of area high school students graduated from college, compared with 34.7% in Kansas City and 31.4% in Chicago. Our high school graduation rate was also horrendous. Our leaders realized that the region that produced the most educated, innovative workforce would gain the companies and jobs in the future. We were behind in a big way. Our corporate leaders decided to adopt students (just like the Big Brother program). The students received internships and help to attend college. Employees became mentors. They also gained experience and a belief they could actually make a difference. It worked.
2. Our City and County finally became one. When it came to being on the same page and building your region for the future, separate City and County governments just didn't work. Now, we're one and on the same page. Now, governments and municipalities don't work against each other. We all move as one toward a common goal: building our region. Even St. Charles County has agreed to help, paying its fair share for things like the Zoo.
3. Focused on our core: Downtown. The expansion Westward and the suburban sprawl might have been great for the many citizens looking for a change, but it damaged our city's core, downtown. Our leaders realized we couldn't build a serious future without a strong core. Back in 2009, our downtown office vacancy rate was 21.5% (compared to Chicago's 15.5% and Kansas City's 16.7%). Our leaders changed that. The city/county merger and incentives helped bring businesses back to the downtown area. A vibrant downtown area helped bring larger corporations into the region.
4. Global Expertise. Our leaders realized that only 5% of the world's population is from the U.S. Companies that can export open themselves up to huge markets. St. Louis decided to be the leaders in exporting. We set up several different incubators (just to help growing businesses learn the exporting trades). Experts soon moved here to lend a hand and within 5 years St. Louis became the mecca of international trade. If you had any business, from 400 employees to one, you wanted to be in St. Louis to help jump-start your international venture.
Turning this city around wasn't as hard as you'd think. After all, we already had a strong foundation in industries like health care and education. All we needed was a commitment and some hard work.
--Ron Ameln, SBM


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Say Goodbye To The Economic Decade From Hell

There is one more good reason to pop the champagne and ring in the New Year--saying goodbye to the Economic Decade From Hell.
This will be a decade to erase from memory. 9-11 and two recessions later, we're finally saying goodbye and hopefully good riddance.
Here are some low lights from the past decade:
-Unemployment in the St. Louis area went from 3% in 1999 to 9.8% today.
-Missouri building permits decreased 82% from peak to trough during the decade.
-St. Louis population growth continued to lag. Between 1990-2008, St. Louis resident population grew 9%, while Kansas City grew 22% and Chicago grew 17% (U.S. population grew 22%).
-Housing prices in St. Louis area have fallen 14% since 2007.
-St. Louis downtown office vacancy rate is now 21.5%, compared to Chicago's 15.5% and Kansas City's 16.7%.
Needless to say, I'll be hoisting my glass and hoping for a better decade ahead.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Your Company Is What You Do, Not Who You Are

An entrepreneur friend of mine surprisingly took his life last week, leaving behind a wife and children. My thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family.

While I'm not sure of the exact reasons for his actions, I do know his business and industry were suffering through a major decline. He went from having a soaring business with many employees to just a few. I'm sure this business downfall weighed heavily on him the past few years.

As and entrepreneur, it's easy to forget that our companies and our work "are what we do, they are not who we are."

That's certainly easy to sit back and say. We work long hours and are driven by bottom line results. Our employees become like children. We end up worrying about their progress and futures just like our own kids.

Even though it's tough, we've got to make this distinction. Even during troubling times like the past few years, our lives go on despite what happens with our companies. From my friend, I'm going to remember this lesson.

--Ron Ameln, SBM

Carrying A Man Purse And Running A Business

I met an entrepreneur friend of mine recently for lunch and he showed up wearing a Man Purse. Yes, that's right. He showed up with a purse, carrying such items as tissues, camera, keys, cell phone.
I gave him the obligatory 30 seconds of ribbing and then let him explain himself. "It's not a man purse," he said. "It's a European Shoulder Bag."
Oh, excuse me...Whatever.
Later, I starting thinking more about his man purse...ahem, European Shoulder Bag. You know, the same characteristics that make him wear his bag in public are the same characteristics that make him a great entrepreneur.
He's innovative, doesn't care what others think and isn't afraid to take a chance. He never waits to see how others feel about his decisions. He makes decisions based on what is best for his company and future (no one else), and he doesn't follow everyone's path--he creates his own.
Do you showcase these characteristics in your business?
Maybe I shouldn't have made fun of him after all.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Take No Prisoners Business Book

So you want to succeed in business, huh! We'll, according to George Cloutier, it's time to put business first.

In Cloutier's latest book, "Profits Aren't Everything, They're the Only Thing," he states that many business owners are not fully committed to the success of their businesses.

"When I do seminars around the country about building profits, it always stuns me when more than half the people in the room admit to not working on weekends, yet these are the same people who complain about failing to make big money," Cloutier writes in the book. "I meet a lot of resistance to this from clients at first. Of course you have every right to a life--if you don't care about making money."

If you are looking for some tough love when it comes to growing your business, this might be the book for you.

Here are some of the advice he offers small- and medium-sized business owners:

-Fire every family member but yourself.

-Weekends are for working, not seeing your children.

-Never pay your vendors on time.

-Wear your control freak badge with pride.

-Quit your denial: if your business fails during the recession, it's still your fault.

--Ron Ameln, SBM

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

5 Worst Movies, Part 2

A few months back I shared with everyone the worst movies I had ever seen. I decided to add a few more. This time, however, I went to the expert (I consider any male under 30 an expert because they've seen EVERY movie ever produced). My expert is Eric Joellenbeck. Here's Eric's worst pics:
1. Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009)
Kevin James (who I'm a big fan of) plays dopey mall security guard, Paul Blart. When the mall he works for is taken over by burglars, it's somehow all up to him to save everyone inside. This movie makes ample use of "fat equals funny," which is not true. It might work once or twice, but you can't fill a whole movie of Kevin James not being able to run far or dance for a long time or eating lots of pie.
2. The Happening (2008)
Something terrible is happening to people of Earth. When the wind blows by them, they kill themselves. Did you hear that? That's the actual plot of this movie. And the way people kill themselves in this movie is completely preposterous, such as people feeding themselves to lions or stabbing their own throats with devices keeping their hair in place. This is M. Night Shyamalan's latest bomb in a recent string of terrible movies. And by the way, I don't think anybody is buying The Funky Bunch's Marky Mark as a science teacher. Not even Marky Mark himself.
3. The Good Shepherd (2006)
I'm surprised here; Robert DeNiro is directing. Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie are starring. And it's a spy movie. Well, it's probably the most boring spy movie I've ever witnessed. Matt Damon gives the worst performance of his career, it can be likened to a robot. And Angelina does a good job of just being a bitch for a solid 167 minutes! That's right. 2 hours and 47 minutes of boredom. So much more could have been done other than Damon brooding around the world and Angelina crying because she's having his baby.
4. The Squid and the Whale (2005)
Noah Baumbach's 2005 movie is about two intellectuals who divorce in the late 80's. Their two kids are deeply affected and change in great ways during the separation. What i hated about this movie was how I felt talked down to. This movie is full people who all think their smarter than everyone and will tell you so. It's never happened to me before this movie where I watched a movie where I literally thought, "Wow, I hate everyone in this movie." If you skip this movie and just have a college level student tell you that you're an idiot and don't read good books, you'll get the gist of this movie.
5. Suspiria (1977)
Considered a horror classic, Dario Argento's Suspiria is a completely idiotic tale of disgust. Yeah, that may be harsh and I know people love this movie. I don't know if the version I saw was, indeed, the original but I know I hated it. The music in it was highly distracting, in a bad way.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Saturday, November 21, 2009

New Businesses Are Important To Recovery

Entrepreneur David Miller is our future, and it's time we start supporting him.
Miller, along with three other partners, are set to open their own sandwich shop, Sammy Scott's Sandwiches & More, in Creve Coeur this month.
Why is he our future? Because businesses like Miller's will be the ones pulling us out of the recession and employing some of the 10% seeking work. Miller expects $1 million in revenue his first year and then to increase the original store to 5-8 more in the area.
Layoffs and restructurings are continuing at blue-chip companies: Time, Inc., Johnson & Johnson and Microsoft recently announced workforce reductions. We shouldn't expect job growth to come from the Fortune 500.
According to a new study from Kauffman Foundation, companies less than five years old created nearly two thirds of the net new jobs in 2007. Growth will come from entrepreneurs like Miller and his partners.
It's time we, as a society, start embracing these entrepreneurs. Politicians, both state and local, and lenders need to start looking at folks like Miller a little differently. If the area's economy is to recover, it will be because of people like Miller and his partners.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Four Budget Cuts You Should NEVER Make

It's that wonderful time of year--budget time. Everyone is knee-deep into their budgets for 2010. (If you are not, shame on you.)

It's been a rough ride for entrepreneurs the last few years, budgets that would normally see a scalpel over the years have gotten the machete treatment lately. It's easy to start cutting, but there are certain line items that should never be cut if you are serious about building a quality business in the future. I speak from experience because I've mistakenly cut these areas and suffered the consequences.

1. Employee Recognition Programs. Maybe it's a birthday lunch, birthday gift, a fruit basket after a job well done....whatever, keep it. Employee recognition is the No. 1 motivator for employees. They are your most important asset.

2. Employee Pay. There is nothing worse than working hard and coming home with less pay than the year before. Sometimes it is essential when business is slow, but it should be a last resort. If you suddenly cut your prices, for example, you send a message to clients that you were either overcharging them or your service doesn't have as much value anymore. Are those messages you want to send to employees?

3. Technology. Technology is a great equalizer for businesses. The right CRM software, for example, can save hours out of your week. Find a new technology every 6 months that will make your more efficient.

4. Fun. Whether it is a happy hour or a bowling outing or a Christmas dinner, work has to remain fun, especially during economic downtimes. Maintain the fun.

--Ron Ameln, SBM

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Meaning Of Life--And Your Business

What is "The Meaning of Life?" Pretty deep, huh...especially from a former sports reporter. Reading a former sports reporter pondering the meaning of life is like listening to an Enron executive discussing integrity (okay, it's not that bad).
Seriously, what is "The Meaning of Life?"
To me, the meaning of life is affirmation. It is knowing you make a difference in the world. That's what we all want and we all crave. People want to know they matter. If they know what they do makes a difference, they will almost always step up to the plate.
So, where does all this fit into your business. Do your employees know they matter? Make a difference?
I know as a business owner I do a HORRIBLE (yes, capital letters) job of letting people that work for me know how they make a difference. I'm an intense person and I'm usually 100% focused on my daily tasks. I just assume employees know they make a difference. I don't think I'm alone.
In fact, a recent study said 50% of entrepreneurs ranked themselves as poor when it came to employee recognition. Another study stated "Recognition" as the No. 1 motivator, according to employees.
If you want to be a better entrepreneur and have more productive employees, start praising employees.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Who Has Solution For Older Employees?

It's not a good time to be an older worker in America. This may be the worst time in the past 60 years to be older and looking for work. Some 6.8% of workers over 55 are currently unemployed. You have to go back to 1949 to find employment stats this bad.

On average, it takes employees over 55 years old seven weeks longer (roughly 33 weeks) to find employment than their younger counterparts.

That's a shame because these individuals carry with them years of expertise and experience. And they are stuck on the sidelines.

"These older workers can't adapt to today's technology and the flexibility in today's workforce?" I hear this all the time. I don't buy it. These folks are as active online as any group these days, and businesses should have systems set up to make it easy for employees to get their jobs done, regardless of age.

Someone (business or industry) is going to come up with a way to hire and employ these individuals and their bottom lines will improve because of the decision. No one wants to hire them so you'll have your pick of the best. We're all living longer today and working longer so if you hire a 55-year-old you may have them for 15 years (the average employee only lasts 4 years with an employee these days). Now, these individuals are often too young for Medicare so benefits will be important to them. However, I think they'd be willing to give up some compensation in exchange for the benefits (they are unemployed after all).

Again, the best kept secret in the job market are older workers. Someone is going to wake up one day and discover them and find a way to tap into this talent pool.

--Ron Ameln, SBM

Surviving Tough Times As An Entrepreneur

I've always found boxing to be an interesting sport. Boxers work for 6 months to perform for two hours. The best boxers actually only box for four hours a year. The rest of the time is preparation.
One of the most interesting things about boxing is how the handlers treat the boxers. "You can do it Champ!" "No one can beat you Champ." It's interesting because every boxer is called Champ. It doesn't matter if he's just won one fight his whole career. He's Champ. In most cases, everyone knows he's not a champion...the boxer, the handlers, the fans, his banker, etc. Yet, he's referred to as "the Champ."
The handlers know their boxer needs a certain edge, a confidence that he can beat anyone at anytime. He can't go into the ring with doubts. They tell him he's the Champ because if he sees himself as the Champ, he may someday end up as the real Champion.
A business owner is no different. Times have been tough on all business owners, but now is not the time to lack confidence. Focus on your successes in the past and the success you'd like to be in the future.
Go Get'em Champ.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sent A Hand Written Letter Recently?

When is the last time you sat down, got out a pen and wrote someone a letter?

Not an email or a text or going online for a computer generated postcard. No, no. I'm talking about a real-life handwritten letter. Been a while, huh?

Well, you're not alone. Hardly anyone sends handwritten letters anymore, and that's a shame.

A few years ago after sending countless emails and voice mails (no response) I finally sat down and wrote a handwritten letter to a prospect. Nothing elaborate, just some thoughts on a piece of paper. I got the appointment and the business.

No one...Let me say this again...No one...sends handwritten letters anymore. Do you want to get noticed? Do you want to make a point? Do you want to show you cared to take time?

Send a letter.

Email used to be great. Now, I get email from everyone (employees, colleagues, vendors, son's teacher, son's coaches, etc.) . I fly through them as quickly as possible.

Not a letter. I don't get any (I can't remember the last one I got). I'll stop and take a look at a letter.

Warren Buffet once said about investing: "When people panic, that's when you should remain calm. When people are calm, you should panic."

The same holds true with communication. When no one is sending letters, it's time to get the pen out and be heard.

--Ron Ameln, SBM

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Does FaceBook Actually Help Your Business?

Ok, I joined Facebook last week. I now have 131 friends that I can share my family pictures with, and more importantly, share the important facets of my "I'm sitting on a airplane going to Cincinnati," or "I'm freezing at my son's soccer game," etc.

So far, I've caught up with some college friends, a few former high school teammates, some clients and prospects, a high school girlfriend and I now know when everyone leaves town for vacation or gets the flu.

The problem is that I found out most of these things at the office.....when I should have been actually working to make a profit for my business.

As any business owner will attest, employee focus is one of the most difficult challenges in helping employees become successful. Social networking (even though I use and love) is yet another distraction for many workers.

I'm now on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, all great tools, but here is the question: When are these tools helping me serve my customers and pay the company bills (the real reason we all work) and when are they sapping my productivity?

It's a tough question and a question all business owners will soon need to answer. Some businesses are banning Facebook from their company computers. Others are waiting to see how these tools flesh themselves out in future. I'm not sure there is a right or wrong answer, we're all trying to learn and adapt to these social networking sites.

Now, since many have handheld, Blackberry-type devices, even if you ban Facebook from your company computers, employees are still within reach.

Could there be a day when cell phones and Blackberry devices are also banned from the office? It is happening in colleges.

When deciding to allow employees access, I think it comes down to the question I posed earlier: Does the employee's participation during business hours help your company reach its goals? Don't know the answer? You'd better start thinking about it because businesses of all sizes will soon have a big decision to make.

--Ron Ameln, SBM

St. Louis' Slow Economic Recovery And Small Business

Dave Nicklaus from the Post-Dispatch had an interesting article today (10-25) about the area's history of slow economic recoveries. The expert he interviewed for the story, Jack Strauss of Saint Louis University, believes the St. Louis economy is so sluggish during recoveries because of its dearth of small, fast-growing businesses. This seems to make sense. After all, it's small business that usually creates the new jobs and pulls communities out of economic rough patches.
It's no secret that studies have shown St. Louis has a low rate of business startups and lacks an entrepreneurial culture.
It's too late to turn around for this economic downturn, but there are some things the region can do before the next downturn. Here's three things we can do today:
1. Get Our Leaders Onboard. It starts at the top. Stop with the condescending talk about how important small companies are and start putting your money where your mouth is. This goes for RCGA (quit spending money to lure businesses from other regions) and use it to help our own homegrown firms prosper. There are many successful small firms that can become future Fortune 1,000 firms, but only with support. This goes for civic progress, state and local politicians and communities as well. Do our leaders realize that 95% of area companies have less than 20 employees?
2. Change The Mindset of Area Lenders. There are MANY area lenders that won't even talk to an entrepreneur unless his business has $5 million in revenue. Interesting...didn't Build-A-Bear, Enterprise, World Wide Technology, Pangea Group, Scottrade, etc., all start out with much less in revenues? I'm not asking to take risky loans, I'm saying maybe you should think outside the box when it comes to funding area companies. Maybe more programs like the St. Louis Business Development Fund (pooling many lenders together to lesson the risks) would help. Listen...if we as a region don't nurture some of these smaller firms, where will the bank's find these $5 million companies to lend to 5 years from now? Oh, right, we'll have RCGA steal one from Cleveland!
3. Change The Mindset In St. Louis. This is a tough task for a town that wants to know where everyone went to high school. I know this used to be a corporate town and people here just flat out don't like to take risks. Well, that's part of the problem. This is a risk-reward society. The ones that take the most risk get the greatest rewards. We've got to start embracing new ideas and take a chance every now and then. In some towns, an entrepreneur who failed at a business is seen as experienced. In St. Louis, that entrepreneur is seen as "no good," "washed up," a "failure." If we're going to encourage more entrepreneurship in the region, that mindset has got to change.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Monday, October 19, 2009

BBJ: The Only Economic Indicator I Need

Back in the mid-90s I went out to speak to a group of individuals attending a Businesspersons Between Jobs (BBJ) meeting. BBJ has been around for years as a resource for those displaced from their jobs and looking for a new beginning. I spoke about starting a business. At the time our economy was booming and there were about 20 of us in a school gymnasium.
A few months ago I went back to speak on the same topic. There were 22o and another 50 or so standing in the back. There are many gauges for the success of the economy as we start to head out of this recession. Thankfully, most of those numbers are looking good.
The number I'll focus on is the weekly attendee list of BBJ. Until we get that number back down in the 20-50 range, we won't fully recover.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Business Is Always About The Fundamentals

I remember the late Bill Walsh, former coach and executive with the San Francisco 49ers talking about the latest offenses in the NFL. He said, people have the "West Coast Offense, the Run-And-Shoot, the Power-I, but at the end of the day, it's the team that blocks and tackles better that always wins. Those fancy offenses are great, but you must block and tackle better than the opposing team to win, regardless of your fancy offense."
I try and keep this in mind as I hear businesses and their plans for social networking. Sometimes, I think they forget about blocking and tackling. Now, I'm not saying don't get on Facebook and Twitter and all of that. I'm involved in them. I'm just saying that your business success will come down to business basics and fundamentals. Facebook isn't going to help you get those.
In the early-to mid-1990s there were local businesses that slashed marketing budgets because with the advent of the Internet, they could pull clients in from all over the world, or so they were told. They were told they didn't need the old ways of branding, marketing and prospecting. One photographer stopped marketing and spent thousands on a website. Well, so did thousands of other photographers. The business never came.
For most businesses, the Internet has been an invaluable resource and efficiency tool. However, if you had problems selling your services before the web, you usually had the same problems after. It wasn't a cure all by any means.
It's blocking and tackling. The hype about social networking is great and it is here to stay. Just don't ignore what it takes to be successful. Sometimes, when times are tough, we search for the quick fix. Maybe we should revisit the fundamentals of business.
-Ron Ameln, SBM

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Speeding Up The Economic Recovery

I just listened to an interview of Fred Smith, Founder of FedEx, concerning the economy. He's optimistic as his company has seen an increase in all business sectors the past few months. Our company has also seen this uptick.

The economic numbers are starting to perk up, and most economists agree that we are now in positive territory and the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression is over. Now, it's time for a slow recovery. The question is: How can we speed this recovery?

Historically, consumer spending and small businesses have fueled recoveries. Hopefully, consumers will start spending.

As far as small businesses, you can count on their help only if we can get liquidity into the marketplace. Tight lending has caused many businesses to stop growth plans and others from starting businesses at all. Home equity lines were always an entrepreneur's ticket to living the American Dream. Well, tight credit and a depressed housing market have made this one of the most difficult times for small business owners.

If small business is going to play a role in this recovery, more credit is a must.

--Ron Ameln, SBM

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Twitter: Sucking Everyone Into The Next Web Bubble

Remember the days when VC companies would hand millions of dollars to young, hot-shot web gurus. It was a strange time, back then. The VCs were always so proud of themselves: "This company isn't making money, but its burn rate isn't that bad." Wow, what a great investment. My client's not losing that much money.
Most of those companies never made money (were never going to make money) and crashed and along with the tech bubble. You'd think everyone would learn a valuable lesson. Apparently not.
I just finished reading a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article by Tim Barker about a visit by Jack Dorsey, one of the founders of Twitter. Dorsey came to St. Louis as a guest of Webster University. According to the article, he answered questions for an audience of 1,000. Benjamin Akande, dean of Webster's school of business and technology, compared him to Johannes Gutenberg (printing press inventor) and Alexander Graham Bell (telephone creator).
I should seem ironic that a business school would honor Dorsey and a company that has never made a dime in profit. I say "should."
Twitter continues to struggle to find a way to be profitable. "Just wait," say the VCs that just pumped $50 million more into the firm. I'm not as confident. Dorsey and his staff thought they'd be making a profit last year. Didn't happen. They've yet to successful implement their mythical business plan.
Yet, VCs fall all over him and he's honored by 1,000 teary-eyed followers (sort of like the Beattles, without the hit singles).
Don't get me wrong. I like Twitter, use Twitter and would love to see Dorsey and Twitter become a success. But my definition of business success is making a profit. I'd like to see a profit before we start comparing Twitter to the printing press and the telephone.
And, of course, Dorsey discussed a new application that would be out soon. Sounds like the old tech companies that always stayed one step in front of the VCs by promising a new application. (When it looked like money was drying up, there was always a new application.)
It's easy to see why VCs get sucked into these companies. Just like the 1,000 guests that came to hear Dorsey, they get sucked in with the sexiness of the service.
If we can learn anything from the tech bubble, it should be investing in profitable companies.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Monday, September 14, 2009

When It Comes To Sales, Persistence Is Key

Have you ever heard the expression, “90% of success is just showing up.” It amazes me as I talk with clients and others in the business community how reluctant salespeople are to actually sell. Here are some statistics I find fascinating. When I look at these numbers, the ones that pop out to me first are: 1.) 2% of sales are made on the first contact with a prospect., and 2.) 80% of sales are made between the fifth and twelfth contact with a prospect.

• 48% of sales people never follow up with their prospects.
• 25% of sales people make a second contact with their prospect and then they stop.
• 12% of sales people make three contacts with their prospect and then they stop.
• Only 10% of sales people make more than three contacts with their prospects.
• 2% of sales are made on the first contact with a prospect.
• 3% of sales are made on the second contact with a prospect.
• 5% of sales are made on the third contact with a prospect.
• 10% of sales are made on the fourth contact with a prospect.
• 80% of sales are made between the fifth and twelfth contact with a prospect.

--Ron Ameln, SBM

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

In Business, It's All About The Bottom Line: Your Profit

In baseball, batting averages and ERAs earn players' big contracts and All-Star appearances, but wins get them and their teammates championships.
In business, it's all about the bottom line: Your profits. Profitable companies win the championships at the end of the day.
It's not about the number of employees, what you'll be in the future or even revenues.
Sometimes entrepreneurs forget this as they motor through each day, always looking for the next great conquest. Civic organizations and our political leaders also overlook this small fact. In fact, I notice that many of the smaller (old-fashioned) businesses often get overlooked like they don't exist. I'm talking about the dry cleaners, the restaurants, small retail shops, etc. Although in many cases, those businesses are actually making a profit.
For example, if you had to pick between Frank's Dry Cleaning on the corner and Facebook, which would you think is making a profit? Well, it's not Facebook.
Surprised. Even though the company takes in between $300 and $500 million a year in advertising and has great marketing leverage, it has never made a dime of profit. In the game of business, Facebook is striking out.
YouTube is also losing. The video site owned by Google sells ads but has always run at a loss. ALWAYS.
What about Twitter? That sensation of a website with 40 million members. It must be profitable, right? Think again. It doesn't even try to generate revenue, let along profits.
The ironic thing is that when I meet folks out networking, some will approach me with helpful online ideas for our company. I dig that. However, the conversation usually ends like this, "...and you can turn it into the next Twitter."
Thanks, but no thanks. I would rather run a small operation with a profit.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Finding The Right Banking Partner

Why do so many good commercial lending deals fail? Not because of lousy business plans, poor personal credit or over-inflated numbers. In many cases business owners simply go to the wrong bank. Every bank has a different appetite for certain types of lending. Businesses should look at their particular circumstances and find a bank that best fits their needs. The decision of where to find business capital involves more than just comparing interest rates. Here are some questions to ask when evaluating lending sources:
1. Can you meet regularly with your banker? Choosing the right banker is similar to choosing a good doctor. You want someone who is competent, personable and a good listener. The right banker can become an integral part of your management team. Meeting face-to-face and discussing your future plans is an important part of building a successful banking relationship.
2. Are loan decisions fair and balanced? You’ll want a lender who can provide a balanced credit decision that takes into account your total picture, including all of your business assets and potential.
3. Does the bank understand small business?
4. Does the bank understand your industry? When bankers don’t understand how an industry operates, they don’t understand how they’ll be repaid. And when bankers don’t understand how they’ll be repaid, they decline loan requests.
5. Is the bank small enough?
6. Is the bank large enough to meet your needs?
7. Does the bank have the ability to advise?
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Health Care Reform And Small Business

Years ago I had an interesting conversation with an entrepreneur that owned a local Handyman Hardware store. We were standing outside his shop and watching construction crews build a brand new Home Depot across the street. "I don't have a problem with competition," he said, thinking about his future. "I just think we should all be on the same, level playing field."
You see, Home Depot received tax breaks and property tax breaks to build across the street. Now, I understand that the Home Depot will employ many people and bring lots of sales tax to the area, but the Handyman entrepreneur had been a good citizen (paying full tax rates) for 30 years. Why not offer him the same deal.
"I don't think they really care if you are here or not," I told him.
Well, some things never change. With the country on the edge of health care reform, it was great to see the recent House Bill that expects small businesses to pay for the many uninsured Americans.
Under the House bill, businesses with payrolls of more than $400,000, must either provide health insurance for their employees or pay a penalty of 8% of their payroll. For those of you who don't own a business, most businesses don't even make 8% (of overall revenues) as a profit. Many are in the 2%-4% range, if they are lucky. This plan would destroy many small firms.
That's not all. The second part of the double whammy is a surtax of at least 1% small firms would have to pay when business earnings exceed the threshold of $280,000 a year.
Don't you think small firms would provide health insurance for employees if they could? I mean, small firms are competing with larger companies for talent.
Here's an idea: If health care is that important to this country (which I believe it is), why don't we have everyone (including the 40% of the population that currently pays NO taxes) help pay the cost.
Politicians love to give lip service to the fact that small firms are "the engine of the economy." Yeah, right. Reality: I don't think they really care.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Social Networking: Making Old Girlfriends Pay

Julie K had better watch out. You see Julie was my first love back in the eighth grade. Until, that is, she turned me down for the Valentine's Day Dance. Now, after 27 years of dealing with the pain, it's time for a little pain and suffering on her end.
I'm going to use social networking to make her pay.
First, a few facts. Her friend Sarah told me she wanted to go to the dance. Then, I asked her and she broke my heart in two. And I must say, I was a catch back in 1981. I sat in the back of the bus with the other cool kids, I wore a concert shirt to school at least two days a week (sure sign of coolness back then) and I even shaved once every few weeks. Heck, I had hair back then.
But Julie ruined my life. (I'm playing Lionel Richie's "Endless Love" as I write this).
Now, it's her turn to suffer. I'm going to use every social networking site I know (Blogs and more blogs, LinkedIn, MySpace, FaceBook, Twitter, etc.) to basically trash Julie.
I was talking with a PR professional last week and he mentioned that PR firms (who used to promote businesses) will now help disseminate messages (for and against others) through social networking sites. These firms make it look like a real grassroots undertaking. (Don't want the world to know it's really four guys in a South County cubicle.) I'm going to hire that PR firm. Ah, the world against Julie K. I can rally every heartbroken 8th grader against her.
Then, I'm going to hire an IT firm to make sure all of these entries end up high on Google's searches. Julie's dog will soon know how bad she hurt me.
I could walk away, move on with my life and not worry about Julie. Yeah, right. Why would I do that when social networking is here to make people like Julie pay.
I'm looking for much more than an apology. I've had years of pain and suffering. I'm thinking a two-week cruise to the Caribbean might help.
Now, Julie will probably hire her own PR firms and disseminate bad information about me or information to make herself look better. She'll probably also hire an IT firm. She may even tell some stories about me to discredit me.
That's OK, my PR firm will just disseminate some more crap about her.
I just want to thank the designers of social networking. Somehow, when the idea of social engineering began, getting back at Julie K was exactly what the founders had in mind.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Saturday, July 4, 2009

When You Think: Think Big!!!

Former football announcer John Madden was also a great coach in his day. One of his most dramatic pre-grame pep talks came during a Super Bowl when he simply told his team: "Don't worry if the horse is blind; let's load up the wagon anyway."

It's a philosophy most businesses should embrace, especially now as companies start planning for 2010. Don't worry is your ideas or plans have some holes in them (or maybe seem like they won't work), think them through anyway. Think through ways they CAN work, instead of ways they can fail.

You might be surprised at the outcome.

Years ago, 1947 in fact, a competition was held in St. Louis for an architect that could design a monument on the Riverfront. Architect Aero Saarinen actually won the competition with a unique Arch. Although Saarinen had no idea if the Arch could stand without falling into the River (many engineers told him it would never work), he and the City pushed on with the project. Design began in 1963 (some engineers still thought it would never work). In fact, until the final piece of the Arch was put in place in 1965, some engineers still didn't think it would work.

However, thinking big paid big dividends. Even though it was once thought impossible to construct, engineers figured out a way to make it happen.

The Gateway Arch has been the crown jewel of St. Louis. It is the landmark the City is known for around the globe.

As you make future plans for your business, don't let the naysayers derail your dreams. Think big. There is plenty of time to figure out logistics and whether or not your ideas will work.

--Ron Ameln, SBM

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Budget: An Important Part Of Any Firm's Success

When we talk about running a business and the numbers, everyone first thinks about the Big Three (Profit-Loss, Cash Flow and Balance Sheet). Unfortunately, no one talks about the budget.

In talking with business owners throughout the month, I'm shocked at how many owners don't have a budget.

If you don't have a budget, start one today. Break everything down from your "Cost of Goods," "Salaries," "Income," and "Expenses." Then, as the year goes on, re-check your budget. Put percentages next to items each month and make sure the company is staying on target. It's the only way you'll know if (and what) things are going wrong. The sooner you realize these things, the sooner you can take action and correct them.

The budget is really your guide to help you through each month, quarter and year. I know our budget has helped us stay on track, and it has helped us understand all of our numbers better.

Planning for 2010 is just starting. If you don't already have a budget, create one today.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Monday, June 22, 2009

Jon and Kate: What Ever Happened To Hard Work?

I went to college (MIZZOU) some 20 years ago with Brad Pitt. Now, even though we were both in the Journalism School, I didn't know him (please girls, don't call me I can't help you meet him). Pitt left MIZZOU, with very little money, his senior year and moved to California because he wanted to be a star. In the late 80s, becoming a big-time Hollywood star meant you moved to Los Angeles with very little money, waited tables at night, went to countless auditions every day and went to acting class. It was hard work, and it took a lot of dedication and perseverance. But, for those who persevered, like Pitt, the rewards were endless. It was called working hard to become a star.

This brings me to Jon and Kate, the current reality stars we hear so much about. Today, people don't move to L.A. and work hard and learn a craft to be famous. No, that's too hard. Today, would-be stars act outrageous, try to get on American Idol, Survivor or another reality show, or find a good fertility doctor.

Why work hard when a fertility doctor can get you on screen much more quickly? I guess it's part of the instant gratification we see in society today.

Jon and Kate received massive amounts of money, opportunities for book deals, a tummy tuck for her, hair implants for him, homes, etc. They are bona fide stars.

But did they really earn those things?

--Ron Ameln, SBM

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Why Government Motors (GM) Won't Work

As a parent I've learned that the most difficult, and at times most unpopular, decisions are often the ones that are in my children's best interests in the long term. They don't notice it now, but they probably will 15 years from now.

The same is the case for businesses. Difficult decisions today (layoffs, budget cuts, diversification) may be the best decisions for the future of the company. Even though these decisions might be unpopular today, they may mean the company exists 10 years from now.

That is precisely the reason Government Motors, the new GM, won't work. Politicians don't care about long-term, they care about popular opinion and making voters happy.

This is already happening at Government Motors. Here's a great example.

GM recently announced a decision to close a parts-distribution center in Norton, Mass. The reasoning seemed sound. The company is bleeding money and parts weren't really flowing from the distribution centers. So, consolidating the centers would help save costs.

The problem: The Norton, Mass., distribution center happened to be in Congressman Barney Frank's district. Frank chairs the Financial Services Committee, which is important to GM now that the Government will soon own 60% of the firm.

Frank called GM's CEO and guess what? The parts plant will not be closed after all.

Difficult decisions must be made to save struggling companies. Politicians cannot make those decisions. Can you imagine politicians setting interest rates? Rates would be 0% (and inflation would be through the roof). What politician would have the guts to raise interest rates. They can't even suggest tax increases.

Frank says his decision to intervene in the situation had nothing to do with the parts plant being in his district. (Surprise, surprise). Frank said he intervened because closing the plant meant parts would now be trucked across the country, which means increasing our global warming problems even more. He actually made the decision in order to help save our planet. (I guess this means GM can't close any of the parts plants.)

Now, GM must figure out a way to cut costs and make all the politicians happy so they can be elected next cycle.

Decisions made for a company based on anything but the best long-term interests of the company just won't work.

--Ron Ameln, SBM

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Important Question: What Business Are You In?

I had lunch the other day with one of my mentors and I began telling him about some of the diversification plans for SBM. He stopped me at one point, with a very direct question: "What Business Are You In?"

Can you answer that question in your business? Years ago Hertz Corporation asked this question and realized that the firm was not in the "rental car" business, but rather the "get people out of the airport as fast as possible," business. This discovery changed the way the executives and employees made decisions. It spawned a Hertz Club where members no longer had to wait for vehicles, a huge success for the company at the time.

So, what business are you really in? When you discover the answer, every decision you make should meet this objective.

For SBM, we're not a "publication," or a "newspaper." We're in the business of "Educating and Promoting Small Businesses." After some reflection, I realized some of my diversification ideas didn't really meet this goal.

What Business Are You In?

--Ron Ameln, SBM

Diversification: Riches In Niches

Every company is looking for ways to diversify and gain some new revenue streams, especially in this economy.

One warning: Take your time and find the right solution. Remember: there are riches in niches. Don't leave your niche behind trying to find the holy grail of income.

Years ago Hardee's decided to diversify and serve fried chicken. The chicken was excellent and soon the stores were packed with patrons buying chicken. The only problem: Hardee's didn't have the capacity to serve large amounts of chicken. Soon, patrons were waiting 30 minutes for chicken. That didn't last long, as you can imagine.

It didn't take long before customers, angry they had to wait 30 minutes for chicken, stopped coming not only for chicken but for the restaurant's niche: burgers.

Wisely, Hardee's abandoned the chicken concept and once again focused on its niche: burgers. The chain learned a valuable lesson about diversification. Today, even as chains strive for healthier menu choices, Hardee's continues to focus on its niche: burgers.

--Ron Ameln, SBM

Monday, June 15, 2009

Phil Jackson: A True Leader Wins Again

L.A. Lakers basketball coach Phil Jackson just led his current team to an NBA title. It will make the 10th NBA title for Jackson.

It's no wonder he's won 10 titles. You can tell he's a leader just by watching him on the sidelines. Unlike most coaches in the NBA, Jackson doesn't stand all game screaming at his players. He sits quietly, almost like he's at church. (He's a believer that yelling at someone in heat of a game will not improve his or her performance. Instead, he opts to talk about game situations and offer advice during halftime or timeouts when competitive emotions have settled down.)

Even the world's most coddled, self-centered athletes (basketball players) respect him because he treats them like human beings. (He even passes out books to players on road trips. Yes, Dennis Rodman actually read a few of them.) He gives his players responsibility and a say in game stratagies.

As leaders of our businesses, we can take away many lessons from Coach Jackson.

--Ron Ameln, SBM

Thursday, June 11, 2009

New GM CEO: Does Car Experience Matter?

It seems the new head of GM (Government Motors) is making a bit of a splash. Edward Whitacre Jr., the new head honcho is taking heat because he has no (nada, zero) experience in the auto industry. Now that the tax payers own a majority of the auto maker, some seem a bit concerned Whitacre might not be the man to turn the troubled company around.
I think that's a bunch of BS. The new leader SHOULD NOT have any auto experience. GM needs someone with some fresh ideas and new energy, not someone stuck in the past. (By the way, this isn't Whitacre's first rodeo. He led AT&T for more than 43 years.)
Think about your own business. You get so caught up in what used to work, who used to do what, how things have always been done, etc., you get paralyzed. At the end of the day you can't see the forest through the trees and you don't even realize it.
GM needs a new focus and energy. Someone from the outside that can bring a fresh perspective. The ONLY way to get that is to look outside the industry. It's time for a change in the way auto makers do business. That change can only come from outside the industry.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Monday, June 8, 2009

Social Networking: Will It Really Help Your Business?

After the Super Bowl in February, ESPN interviewed the Pittsburgh Steeler coach after the team's last-minute victory. The reporter asked the coach about the victory. "It all comes down to blocking and tackling," the coach said. "You can implement all the strategy and systems you want, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to blocking and tackling."
The Steelers were one of the few teams that didn't rush out and implement the trends of the day, the "West Coast" offense, the "Four Receiver" format, the "Wild Cat" offense, etc. They stuck with the basics.
How about your business? Are you sticking to the basics and fundamentals that will guarantee business.
I see a lot of business owners, especially sole proprietors, spending a large amount of time on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. I know all the consultants are telling you to get on board or else, and playing on these social sites is certainly fun. But stop and think for a minute. As a sole proprietor, you only have so many hours of the day. Your focus should be on getting your message out to qualified prospects.
I've got a strange feeling that one of your competitors can do a better job of reaching qualified prospects with a phone book, a phone and a few cold calls. There is only so much time in the day. It boils down to blocking and tackling. Just make sure that's what you are doing.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Jennifer Pautler Deserves Trophy, Award (Something)

Jennifer Pautler deserves a trophy, blue ribbon, award, your sympathy, etc. Her name was Jennifer Pautler back in 1991 (she may be married and it may have changed by now). She was my first boss in the news business back in 1991 when the two of us were the editorial department at the Farmington Press-Leader, a two-day a week newspaper in Farmington, Mo.
I thought of Jennifer the other day when one of my employees was down in the dumps over a mistake he made in one of our magazines. He was reading a blog about "the biggest mistakes ever " to make himself feel a bit better. I took the opportunity to explain to him some of my biggest bloopers. It was a long conversation.
My biggest happened in Farmington when I wrote a hard-hitting story about gun control legislation. The legislation was called the Brady Bill, named after James Brady, who was shot during President Ronald Reagan's assassination attempt in 1981. Like most of my news stories back then, it sucked. (At least I was consistent. Some readers of this blog might be thinking some things never change.) Readers expected that, so that wasn't my blooper. For some reason, I referred to the legislation as the Baker Bill (Jim Baker is the former Secretary of State). I didn't just make this mistake once. I called it the Baker bill during the entire article and the headline. Even though only 10 people actually read the paper, all 10 called to yell, laugh and ridicule.
It was brutal. When you work for a paper that publishes just twice a week and you make a front page blunder, the worst part is seeing it over and over and over. Go to the grocery store, there it is. Walk the dog, there it is sitting on lawns (calling your name: "Ron, you idiot.")
That was one of many. I won't even get into the "7 Dwarfs" column, my commentary on the 7-member local school board.
Looking back on my early mistakes, I don't think I would change a thing. You have to make those mistakes to learn and grow. Even though I've made many mistakes since (and more to come), I learn from each mistake. I'm much more supportive of my own employees when they makes mistakes. I'll always remember Farmington.
Now back to Jennifer. She took the heat for many of my mistakes in Farmington. Even though she graduated just six months before me, she gracefully took the heat time and time again.
She once told me I was "not coachable." Who? Me?
The bad part about the Farmington experience is that I was so bad that I think I drove her out of the business. She quit her job, left journalism and headed back to school and pursue a teaching certificate. A few months of supervising me and that was it.
If anyone ever runs into Jennifer, pat her on the back for me and let her know you are sorry she had to deal with me. And if you read this Jennifer, realize that payback is hell. I'm now dealing with my Mini-Me's everyday.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Is Your Reality Clouded?

A friend of mine coaches high school soccer. His job is to put the best team on the field as possible, regardless.
When it comes to judging the talent of these high school athletes, can you guess who the worst judge of talent is? Their parents. According to my friend, the parents just can't see that junior can't run as fast or kick the ball as far as his other team members. And who can blame them. They are the parents. They love these kids unconditionally. They see things in their children others don't.
What is so ironic about this is that the parents are clueless. They really think Junior is the best player on the team. Saying anything to the contrary elicits anger. They really think they are looking at this in an unbiased fashion.
Keep this in mind when you are staffing your company and searching for the best team members. Maybe your kids aren't the best team members. Maybe you're not really seeing reality. This also goes for friends, Uncles, Cousins, that guy that saved your life back in the second grade, etc.
Be careful not to put yourself in a position to see a clouded reality. Don't say it won't be me. Yes, it will be you. Maybe there is no hope for soccer Moms and Dads, but if your job is to put the best team on the field for your company, this is something you can avoid. If you don't, you (and the other players on your team) may regret it later.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Are You Following Success Patterns?

When I was in college I lived in the dorm for a few years. After four or five semesters of living in the same building with 300 other guys, I started recognizing certain patterns.
When the freshmen came into the dorm, I could usually tell (within a few days) who was going to flunk out, get the best grades, make the most friends or scuffle and struggle through each day. In most cases, I didn't even need to meet them. I would just watch them for 5 or 10 minutes.
How did I know this? Because there are certain characteristics and patterns that successful people go through each and every day. There is a certain way they go about their business.
That's why, in business, I think it is more important than ever to find successful mentors.
Watch how they live their lives on a daily basis and emulate them. Successful entrepreneurs that I've met over the years are extremely focused, experts at time management and they get more done in a one, 12-hour period than 2 people in the same time frame. The ironic thing is that they are usually no smarter than anyone else.
Where do you fit in? Are you the college freshman that will flunk out in a few semesters, or are you the straight A student?
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Yes, I'm On Twitter

OK, I did it. I'm now on Twitter. You can follow me at
Why did I join the latest social networking craze? Well, two reasons. One, I wanted to upset my 18-year-old nephew, and what better way than for his 40-year-old uncle to set up a Twitter account. He's now feeling very uncoooool. Wait until I show him my FaceBook page.
Lastly, I really wanted to see who the hell would want to follow me. I've been on Twitter now for a week or so and I have four people following me. That's four more than I thought I'd have. Trust me, it's not my wife and family (they could care less about what I'm doing).
I don't even know these people (followers). I don't know if I should send them a sympathy card or call them up, thank them and beg them to keep following me. Who would want to follow me? I mean, buying a new t-shirt is usually the highlight of my month.
Maybe I can start my own cult.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Monday, April 13, 2009

Handling Customer Complaints

Here are some valuable tips for dealing with customer complaints:
* Listen to each complaint. Never mind how foolish it may sound, most people will not complain unless they feel they have a legitimate grievance. Often they are upset about something other than what they are complaining about. Try to find out.
* Try to take the customer’s point of view. If you were in the customer’s place, how would you feel?
* If investigation is necessary, do it while the customer is present.
* If investigation shows the customer is right, admit it at once. Apologize and offer to make amends then and there. An open and honest response brings you from conflict to common ground.
* Should the complaint turn out to be baseless, try to let the customer save face. Offer that the feedback has helped you to evaluate and improve your service.
Source: SCORE "Counselors to America's Small Business"

Friday, April 10, 2009

New COBRA Policy And Cash-Strapped Small Firms

I had a conversation with a client about the new Obama administration and small business owners. I was telling my client about a recent poll by NFIB (National Federation of Independent Business) that showed 60% of business owners feel Obama doesn't understand their needs.
He was shocked and surprised the number was this high.
He wanted some examples. Well, here's one, pointed out in Entrepreneur Magazine by writer Dennis Romero: the recent COBRA policy in The American Reocovery and Reinvestment Act.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act reduces the amount laid-off workers have to pay in order to extend optional healthcare coverage under federally mandated COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) rules. Instead of writing monthly checks for 102 percent (the extra 2 percent for administrative costs) of the healthcare premium they enjoyed on-the-job, they now have to front only 35 percent. The caveat: The remaining 65 percent must be paid, up-front, by employers, which can then withhold the amount of the payments from their next federal payroll-tax contributions.
As one expert pointed out in the article, "At a firm with 10 people on COBRA at $1,000 per person, the employer would be laying out $650 each, which would be $6,500 per month. If that firm only has limited revenue, the $6,500 a month could be significant."
Let's hope this doesn't cause more people to lose their jobs. If I remember correctly, this bill was about creating jobs. Now, don't get me wrong, I want to help folks get COBRA coverage more than anyone. However, I don't want to see more people out of work needing COBRA coverage either.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Do You Have A Strategic Plan?

No matter how small, businesses need to prepare a strategic plan on a routine basis, according to SCORE, "Counselors to America's Small Businesses."
A business owner needs to look into the future to determine the best way to grow his or her business after determining how competition, the economy, new product introductions, changing prices and changes in internal operations might impact the business. Business owners routinely think about day to day operations on an ongoing basis. It is a good idea, at least once a year, to take time to step back and look at the big picture—including both external and internal variables and how these variables might impact the business.
The annual strategic review can be as simple or as complicated as the business owner might wish to make it. Taking a look at the mission statement of the business, updating a SWOT (Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats) analysis, revisiting Critical Success Factors, goals and objectives can confirm that the business is on track or going in the wrong direction. If the business is moving off course, the business owner can make corrective changes in direction before a disaster happens.
The strategic plan for the business is the “game plan” for positioning the business and for managing its activities. Strategies serve as guidelines for how the business will get where it wants to go. As important as developing the strategic plan is, implementation is everything! A strategic planning exercise can be a great way for the management of a small business to determine where they’re going and how they’re going to get there.
-Ron Ameln, SBM

Friday, April 3, 2009

Top 5 Worst Movies I’ve Ever Seen

A discussion with a buddy last weekend got me thinking about the worst movies I’ve ever seen. So, after a week of scanning my memory, I thought I’d branch out from all the serious business talk and share the worst movies I’ve ever seen. Please respond with some of your worst movies. Note: these top 5 are movies I’ve seen. Don’t hold it against me that I wasn’t dumb enough to sit through Gigli, Glitter or Freddy Got Fingered. Give me some credit. Although I was dumb enough to see the following.

Here are my 5 worst:

Showgirls (1995). A young drifter, named Nomi, arrives in Las Vegas to become a dancer and soon sets about clawing and pushing her way to become the top of the Vegas showgirls. This movie gained much notoriety before its run at theaters because of its NC-17 rating. Half of the audience was there to see how good former “Saved By The Bell” star Elizabeth Berkley looked naked. The other half (that would be me) attended to see cinematic excellence. Both groups went home unhappy. Berkley was so horrible at playing trailer park trash that even the trailer park trash were insulted.

From Justin To Kelly (2003). American Idol finalists Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini starred in this movie musical. It stayed in theaters for only two weeks before being released to stores on DVD six weeks later. I ended up watching this movie on an American Airlines flight (they should be ashamed). I was trapped, and it was hell. Good thing the metal detectors worked that day because there would have been some serious violence. Yes, I did think about jumping. This movie was worse than bad. If I were to be taken hostage this afternoon and given two choices of interregation: watching this movie or waterboarding, I’m taking waterboarding, hands down. Kids Choice Awards named this movie the best of 2003. This has me worried about our future.

BASEketball (1998). If you didn’t see or hear about this movie, you didn’t miss much. This was a comedy by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. I’d pass along the plot but after watching it I’m still not sure what the hell the movie was about. Rumor has it that Bob Costas, who is in the movie, contemplated joining the witness protection program after the movie’s release. It was that bad. I’d say this was a Mickey Mouse movie, but I don’t want to insult Mickey.

Dirty Dancing (1987). After Patrick Swayze’s dance partner has a botched abortion and can’t dance at the big talent night party, Jennifer Gray (Baby, to you and me) comes through in the clutch, finds her womanhood and saves the day with a one-of-a-kind dance routine. Oh brother. This movie was so sappy the concession stand served insulin. The best line of the movie, Swayze to Baby’s Dad: “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.” Priceless.

Mannequin (1987). Here’s the plot: Stupid dork falls in love with a store mannequin, and then the mannequin comes to life and they fall in love. No, really. I’m serious. The mannequin’s name was Emmy, which is as close as this movie will ever come to winning any type of award. At some point and time, during some writing meeting, the thought of a mannequin coming to life and falling in love with a stupid dork sounded like a good idea. Why? How?
-Ron Ameln, SBM

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Open Letter To St. Louis' Largest Companies: AB, Build A Bear, Express Scrips, Sigma Aldrich, Monsanto, Enterprise, Scottrade, WWT

Dear Mr. or Mrs. Company President/CEO:
I think I can speak for most area residents when I say how proud we are of your sucess. Having firms such as yours in our community helped make St. Louis a great place to raise a family and live.
With that in mind, that's why I'm turning to you. St. Louis needs your help.
Here's the deal: the community is losing larger businesses like yourselves. We've become a second-tier city. We no longer have auto plants and manufacturing facilities our residents once relied on for employment. We're no longer even a hub city for airlines. When young, enterprising entrepreneurs talk about starting companies, they don't mention St. Louis.
Our opportunity to turn things around relies on nurturing and growing the businesses we currently have in the community. I've met many of these owners and they are committed to growing and on the verge of growing into mid-size and larger businesses. But they need some help.
These are the businesses of the future for St. Louis. These companies will one day grow to become the next Enterprise, Scottrade, Express Scripts, AB--all companies that began on a shoestring in St. Louis.
But they need help.
I'm asking three things from you:
1. You help incubate some of these firms. What is incubate? You offer free space to a group (10 or 15 area small- and mid-sized businesses). Cuts have been deep for larger corporations lately so we know you have the extra space. The free space will help these companies get off the ground running in the early years when cash is tight.
2. You'll help mentor them. You have lots of knowledge in your organization, such as HR managers, PR managers, marketing and legal professionals. One hour a month of free consulting from these individuals will help these young firms make better decisions and help them grow. One hour a month, that's all.
3. You'll get them together. At least once a month, you will provide the venue that helps these 10 or 15 business owners get together to share their ideas, brainstorm for one another and help each other with business leads.
There isn't a lot of time commitment involved, and we're only asking that you provide the space you might have vacant in some of your offices.
Only you can make this happen. Many of the city governments incubate firms and do a great job. But only you have the business know how and expertise to really help these owners learn and grow.
Civic leaders are always talking about stealing companies from other cities. This is your opportunity to say, "Let's work together and build the companies we already have."
The great part about building companies we already have is that the owners are already a part of the community, and they will stay here when their companies grow. Just look at your own businesses.
This isn't about civic duty, it's about building a better future for every child you see playing on area playgrounds and building a better business environment for every kid at the bus stop.
It's up to you. Only you can make this happen.
It's time to give back. You may not get media coverage for helping a small business grow, but that's ok. You're going to do this not because it's the civic thing to do, but because it's the right thing to do.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Girl Scout Lesson In Business

Timothy Ferriss would be very proud of 8-year-old girl scout Wild Freeborn. Ferriss is the author of the book, "The 4-Hour Workweek," a book where he describes how to use technology and outsourcing to automate processes and take advantage of your true strengths.
Freeborn, in her first year as a Girl Scout selling cookies, decided to think outside the box (parden the pun) when it came to the cookies. Instead of spending days walking door-to-door hawking the cookies or standing outside in the cold at local grocery stores, she decided to put a video on YouTube.
In the video she talks about selling enough cookies to send her whole troop to camp. Genius. Then, her web savvy father placed an order form online. It didn't take long for her to reel in more than 700 orders.
Unfortunately, the Girl Scouts don't see it that way. The organization asked Freeborn to take down her web video, saying it was not fair to the other girls and that the cookie program is supposed to teach "young girls to be entrepreneurs." HELLO!
I think Freeborn just gave the first lesson in entrepreneurism.
We can all learn something from Freeborn. We all get caught up in "this is how it's always been done," and "We can't do that." Those words have been spoken in every office around the world.
When that happens, we close the door on any future opportunities and growth.
Even though she was ordered to take her site down, she's playing hardball. She hasn't stopped taking orders online.
She's a true entrepreneur: daring, open to new opportunities and hard headed. She's going places in the future.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Business Lesson From American Idol

I just finished watching an American Idol episode. Although I've seen maybe 10 minutes of the show over the years, my 5-year-old wanted to watch it tonight so I sat with him and we watched it for an hour before bedtime.
The show is certainly one of the most watched programs (No. 1 in last week's Nielson ratings), but it's not because of the singing. The show is tremendously produced. The producers of the show take you on a journey, where they let you meet and get to know each singer before he or she performs. These well-polished interviews take the viewers into the singers' homes and gives us a better idea of who they really are. For example, one contestant's wife just died a few months ago, making his journey unbelievable. Another had the challenge of raising a small child as a single parent, hoping to provide a great example for her daughter.
The show takes us into the lives of these individuals, gets us hooked into their personal story and then finishes (crescendo like) with the actual performance. Why would the show's producers do this? Why not just let the performers sing, just like any other karaoke contest?
The answer is simple: By telling their stories, it personalizes the entire process. The audience gets to know these individuals and starts rooting for them. You want to follow along with them on this journey.
If you are a small business, learn from this. Get out there and tell your customers and prospects your story. Let them know how you began with $200 and a phone book. Let them know how you've helped charities or how you've helped employees get through some tough times in their lives.
People will take notice and they'll began to root for you and your company. Don't underestimate how this support can help your business. Your fans will follow and support you. Now is not the time to be humble. Let people know your story.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Succeeding With Older Employees

There isn't a networking event that I go to where a fellow business owner doesn't come up to me and complain about employees. Either he or she can't hold onto them, can't find them, wants to kill them, etc., etc...
Lately, since the stock market had tanked and health insurance continues to skyrocket, I've been thinking about all of these employees in their mid-50s through mid-60s. These folks probably aren't as eager to retire and sip cocktails by the pool as they may have been 5 years ago.
So, the question is, who is going to hire them?
How come employers don't value the experience and work ethic of a 55 or 60 year old? I mean, if you hire someone at 60 and he or she works until 70, that's 10 solid years. Research shows 20-30 year olds only stay at one company for two years.
These older generation workers are going to be looking for jobs in the coming years. The companies that can figure out a way to get these folks in their companies are going to be adding years of knowledge and experience to their teams.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Friday, February 27, 2009

Sales Lessons From A Panhandler

The other day I was talking with my friend about a recent trip he took to New York City. He started telling me this story about walking down the street and getting stopped by a gentleman that asked him a simple question, "Do you know where Carnegie Hall is?"

"No," said my friend, "I'm not from around here."

The man grinned, then asked, "I'm not from here either. I need to go to Carnegie Hall and meet a friend. By the way, can you spare a dollar. I'm down on my luck and really need a good meal."

Ah, engagement. I'm not sure how honest this panhandler was, but he engaged engaged my friend with questions in order to help his cause, getting a dollar. You see, if he just comes up and asked for a dollar, he seems too forward and pushy. If he asks a question, he starts to build some rapport. Asking questions builds a bond. He wanted to make my friend feel he was helping.

It's a great lesson for sales pros. Asking questions helps build rapport. Start asking questions of prospects and keep asking questions. When you feel you've asked too many questions, ask more.

By the way, my friend gave the man a few dollars.

--Ron Ameln, SBM

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Missing Fries And Customer Service

Sometimes the best business lessons are right in front of you, or maybe what is not in front of you. In my case the lesson came in the form of french fries, or lack thereof.
I ordered french fries a few months back at a restaurant that opened up across the street from our office. "We're all out," said the waitress. Ok, maybe the truck was late, the purchaser messed up, etc.
Then it happened again a few weeks later. Then, I took a client into the restaurant and waited 30 minutes before anyone came to take my order. Then the real funny story: a client of mine went in and ordered french fries at lunch. "We're all out," he was told. "Well," he said, "I'll take a baked potato." "Here's the deal," the waiter said. "We only have so many of them, so we're holding them until dinner."
Well, needless to say, this restaurant closed its doors last week. It's hard to believe because when they opened the service was great and the restaurant was packed.
Years ago I wrote a story on restaurateur Ray Gallardo (founder of Casa Gallardo) and he said, "A burger is a burger, but your customer service will separate you from competitors."
This restaurant learned this lesson the hard way.
Business owners need to fight really hard, especially in these budget conscious times, to maintain their level of customer service. If you don't, running out of french fries will be the least of your worries.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Finding New Customers In The Downturn

Times are tough for businesses these days. If your sales have fallen as low as Paris Hilton's IQ, it's time to start finding new customers.

If your customers are struggling, it's time to find new industries for your product and service. The following is a great link to an article on industries that will be buying in 2009. Make sure your product can help them. Click here to read the article.

If you can add any others to the list, let me know.

--Ron Ameln, SBM

Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama's First 100 Days; What About Your Next 100?

Okay, so President Obama has been sworn in and the watch begins on his first 100 days. I'm not sure where the whole 100-day thing comes from in the first place, but the media watches each new president like a hawk these first 100 days. (Actually, why is it 100 days? Why not 50? 80? 103, maybe?)
I always liked the 100-day watch. It is a great way for a President to kick start his term, set the tone for his administration and it gives him a short time frame to accomplish goals. The 100-day goal makes him accountable.
When I purchased my business three years ago my business coach set up a 100-day plan to get me off and running. There was no time to gently ease into my new position. I had 100 days to make some changes. In my first 100 days I kicked an employee off the bus, added another and changed the way our product was distributed.
I've been thinking lately that this concept doesn't have to apply to just the very start of a situation. I mean, you could start off the year with a 100-day plan (change the way you sell, interact with employees or change your systems). Make yourself a 100-day plan and stick to it. It is a great way to force yourself to be accountable and turn your goals into reality.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Are Your Salespeople Selling?

Now, more than ever, it is important to create selling opportunities for your reps.
Some firms, however, are doing just the opposite.
Allen Minster, author, sales coach and president of Integrated Marketing Systems, studied the sales habits of insurance reps and the findings were shocking. His study found that the average sales rep spent only 5 hours a week actually selling and 1 1/2 hours a week prospecting for new business. That comes out to 6 1/2 hours of a 40-hour work week.
As owner of your business, are you contributing to this problem? The trend today, especially with layoffs and corporate downsizing, is to make salespeople a jack-of-all-trades. Some owners expect sales reps to be closers, presenters, collection agents, proposal writers, graphic artists, etc.
According to Minster, salespeople should be focused on only these activities: presentations to decision makers (qualifying and closing), cross marketing to existing clients and resolving client issues that no one else in the company can fix.
If your salespeople are not doing one of these three things, they are simply not selling, and you are losing money on them.
All businesses are trying to watch expenses these days, but make sure you're still helping your sales reps increase their selling opportunities.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

When It Comes to The Economy, Is Denial A Good Thing?

I had an interesting conversation with a business owner today. The owner, who is in the office furniture business, proudly told me "His company has elected not to participate in the recession?" Because of this attitude, he said, business is "GREAT."
My first thought was, "Wow, can you say denial." I mean, I often elect not to participate looking bald and middle-aged. I elect to look like Brad Pitt--then I look in the mirror. I hope it works better for the office furniture guy than it's turning out for me.
Now, I don't know if his business is great or not, although I find it hard to believe. I mean, most businesses are just hoping to remain flat this year, and with layoffs and with fewer companies starting, I find it hard to believe phones are ringing off the hook with businesses seeking new office furniture. I mean, the last thing they need at Pfizer or AB is office furniture. But, what do I know.
I talk to some business owners and they don't seem to acknowledge any problems with the economy. Is that a good thing? It's one thing to be positive (that's a good thing) but another to be in denial. I mean, if you don't recognize the upcoming storm or the storm you are in, how can you adjust course to stay afloat. How can you prepare your financials, cut costs, discover new revenue streams, if everything is fine and you are not participating in the recession.
Maybe it comes down to your customers. Attention Mr. Business Owner, if your customers are participating in the recession, so are you. You'd better prepare to tackle the challenge.
--Ron Ameln, SBM