Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Yes, I'm On Twitter

OK, I did it. I'm now on Twitter. You can follow me at http://twitter.com/RonSBM.
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