Monday, December 20, 2010

5 Questions For A More Productive 2011

Did your company perform as expected in 2010? Did you reach your goals?
If you want to build a thriving company in 2011, answer the following questions. Good answers to these questions will lead the way to a productive year.
1. Are you gaining feedback from customers?Entrepreneurs listen to customers and gain feedback. This is how they discover great ideas. Successful entrepreneurs are out in the field finding out what customers really want and need.
2. Are you looking for more opportunities, both inside and outside the organization?
Successful companies are not afraid to dump old products and move on to new ones.
3. Do you have a mentor? Mentors can jump-start an entrepreneur’s knowledge level, link him or her up with new contacts, offer feedback on ideas, plans and strategies and even provide help in raising capital.
4. Have you built an A-team?Savvy entrepreneurs bring people into the organization who are smarter and more skilled than they are. They then create incentives to keep them. The best entrepreneurs are clearly team builders.
5. Are you providing mind-boggling service? When you deliver legendary customer service, customers will rave about your company and become tremendously loyal.
-Ron Ameln, SBM

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Do Groupon-Type Offers De-Value Your Services?

No one can argue with the success of Groupon, the entrepreneurial coupon-based tech firm that started from a Northwestern University dorm room a few years ago. Its success has spawned numerous imitators. From a business startup standpoint, the business model earns an A+.
With all that said, here's a question: For those businesses participating in these types of deals, what are these companies really saying about their products and services? I mean, if you are willing to provide your products and services for 1/2 (sometimes even 2/3) of its price, what are you saying about the value of your products and services? Aren't you turning your product/service into a commodity that can be devalued (sometimes by 1/2 price). And, if your profit margins can afford a 50% decrease, maybe your overcharging customers in the first place.
Six months after the coupons stop running, are your customers going to be excited about paying twice the price for the same meal they paid 50% less for a few months ago? Or, will they just go to the next business down the street that offers another 50% off deal.
The big question is: How will customers see your product/service in the long run? Will it be seen as just another product/service, or will it be seen as something that is unique and has value to it?
Business owners should all be striving to create unique value in their offerings. Once you start slashing prices, your product/service begins to lose that value.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Thursday, December 16, 2010

4 No BS Ways To Sell More In 2011

2011 is just weeks away. The economy is starting to pick up. Now is the time to start building new sales. Here are four things you can do immediately to gain more business in 2011:
1. Start Measuring. You can't accomplish anything in life (i.e., weight loss, productivity) without charting and measuring your actions. Start by determining your goals (you can't get there if you don't know where you are going). Then, start measuring all of your sales activities and actions. After the first quarter, take a day and go over your activities and actions and see what worked/didn't work.
2. Find Your Niche. The 80/20 rule generally applies to most sales. 80% of your sales comes from 20% of your clients. Narrow your prospects. Take a look at your past sales and find out what industries, types of clients you've had the most success with and just focus on them. You'll build better relationships over time, which will lead to more sales.
3. Get Some Help. Everyone needs a coach. Professional athletes have coaches, professional singers have coaches. You need one as well. The coach doesn't need to be an expensive consultant. It might be a friend who can listen each month and offer encouragement. Sales can be a tough mental grind. All sales reps need someone in their corner to help when times get tough--and they will. Think of this person as your sponsor, similar to the AA model.
4. Don't Listen To The "So-Called" Experts. Find out what has worked for you in the past and focus on that before you try out the latest strategies from the "so-called" experts. For example, it's easy to find a guru to tell you cold calling doesn't work anymore. It still does work for some, and it may work for you. It all depends on you and your industry. Most of these gurus have never sold a thing before in their lives. Don't buy into their BS.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Look In The Mirror For Real Answers

"The lesson has been: If you are looking for where to assign blame or find solutions, then don't look outside yourself," says Mark Richman, president of Skeleton Key. "I can't control the economy, but I can control my response to it. We have been deliberate in our actions for the last year, and that has allowed us to achieve our goals despite the economy."

(As seen in the St. Louis Small Business Monthly,, October 2010).

--Ron Ameln, SBM

Embrace Failure

"Don't embrace it as an end, but as a necessary component of success," says Eliot Frick, CEO at bigwidesky. "It is necessary for everyone. You either have a series of small failures that you can hide, or you are going to have one that you can't hide. If you look at the natural world, failure and redundancy is built into our system. We think that failure should never happen, but that is a chauvinism of our understanding."

(As seen in St. Louis Small Business Monthly,, May 2010).

--Ron Ameln, SBM

Sluggish Economy Is Great Time To Raise Prices

"This economy is the ideal time for businesses to get back in touch with who their ideal customers really are," says Dale Furtwengler, president of Furtwengler and Associates and author of "Pricing for Profit: How to Command Higher Prices for Your Products and Services. "
"When they do that, they become more profitable by shrinking the customer base and providing great value rather than salvage market share with people that are only moderately interested."
(As see in St. Louis Small Business Monthly, February 2010)
--Ron Ameln, SBM

A Lesson From Bill Walsh on Blocking And Tackling In Your Business

In the late 1980s as a young sports reporter, I was in Kansas City covering a Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers game. The 49ers had just defeated the Chiefs on their way to a third Super Bowl Championship in seven years. In those days, the 49ers ruled the league.
I was with a mob of other reporters after the game asking questions of the late 49er head coach, Bill Walsh. One reporter asked him a question about the West Coast offense, an offensive system Walsh helped create and the 49ers utilized at the time. "With this system, you can pretty much plug any player in and win?" Walsh shot back angrily. "Wait a second. We're not winning because of our offensive system. We're winning because we're blocking and tackling better than our opponents. If we block and tackle better, it doesn't matter what system we use."
I think the same can be said for business. In business, blocking and tackling means: 1. Knowing your numbers (inside and out); 2. Hiring A Players; and 3. Serving your customers like no other business could.; and 4. Having a plan for exactly where you are going. That's blocking and tackling.
I thought about all of this a few weeks ago when a social media expert (they seem to be multiplying) told a group of business owners that "if they weren't a part of social media, their businesses would die." Unfortunately, I've seen some businesses spend a lot of money and time with social networking. I don't see that as a problem necessarily (there are a lot of advantages). However, just as the West Coast offense didn't help the 49ers win three Super Bowls, social media won't help your company succeed. A focus on blocking and tackling will help you succeed.
First and foremost, spend time and resources on blocking and tackling. If you don't, social media won't help you at all. This is what the so-called "social media guru" should have told you.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Friday, November 19, 2010

Are You In The People Business, Or A Commodity

Customer service is a mindset. It takes thinking of your customers first and really, truly caring about people. It's easy to spot companies that are not in the "people" business.
A few weeks ago I had such an encounter with a car rental company. I don't want to name them (although the name rhymes with Avis), but here is the story:
About a week before my rental I reserved the car for a $100 rate (for two days, picking up the car at 9am). I was actually running early the day I picked up the car and arrived at 8:30am, 30 minutes before my reservation time. I asked to pick up my car.
I was told I could not pick up the car at 8:30am at the $100 rate. If I wanted the car a 1/2 hour early it would cost an additional $90 (for the 1/2 hour). I was a bit taken back. I offered to bring the car in a 1/2 early if that helped. No, I was told. You need to have a seat in the corner and wait 30 minutes. I wasn't alone in the corner. One guy was sitting there for two hours.
So, here is a company that instead of taking care of their customer, tells me to sit in a corner for 30 minutes. Now, I was certainly a 1/2 hour early and I'm sure Avis doesn't want people showing up hours before arrival. However, I am a paying customer and this was an opportunity to become a hero.
Avis took that opportunity and blew it up.
Some rental car companies are in the "serving people" business, while others are in the renting car business. Take, Enterprise, for example. It's slogan says it all, "We'll pick you up." Enterprise employees will take time out of their busy day to pick you up and return you when you return. Is it profitable to be shuttling customers around? No. But they want to take care of their customers. That company is in the "people" business.
When you are not in the "people" business, you've become a commodity. At that point, who cares what business you are in!
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How Thinking Differently Can Lead To Sales

I've always believed that business, like sports, is a game of inches. What separates one successful entrepreneur from one that fails isn't much. In fact, the entrepreneurs that are willing to go against the grain and embrace new ideas are usually the ones standing at the end of the day.
Today I met with entrepreneur Mike Wilcox, president of Vivid Cleaning, a commercial cleaning company.
Mike just recently began his company and is going through the hard work of building clients. An entrepreneurial friend had an interesting idea for Mike: "Why not contact the biggest competitor in the marketplace and ask for a meeting. Maybe he can help you or you can help him." Mike's first thought was, "that is totally ridiculous. Why would I contact my biggest competitor?"
After some hedging, Mike finally took his friend's advice and called the largest competitor in the market. The owner agreed to meet Mike for breakfast and the two had a very nice conversation. The Big Company owner liked Mike so much he began mentoring him and sending him clients. Yes, sending him clients. You see, there are certain smaller jobs the larger firm just can't make profitable. Instead of saying no, the company now sends the prospects to Mike.
Mike is not only getting some mentoring, he's also gaining some clients. The large company owner is getting the satisfaction of helping a local entrepreneur, and he no longer has to say NO to prospects that have jobs too small to handle. A win-win for everyone.
Business: It's a game of inches.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Saturday, November 13, 2010

What Good Are Social Media Friends, Anyway?

In the last week of the mid-term elections, I thought it was interesting to see one of the local politicians touting how many Facebook friends he had collected. In fact, he was quick to point out how many more friends he had than his opponent, like that somehow proved his political ability.
What good are social media friends? Apparently when it comes to being elected for public office, not much.
That candidate lost, and he wasn't alone.
Take, for example, Christine O'Donnell (R) from Delaware and her opponent, Chris Coons (D). O'Donnell had almost three times the Facebook friends (25,809 vs. 9,523). She ended up losing the real race by 16%, a huge political landslide.
This wasn't the only case. The races were littered with similar stories, like Brad Ellsworth (D) from Indiana, who had twice as many Facebook Likes than his opponent, Dan Coats (R). Coats won the election by 15%, yet another landslide.
There is a clear lesson here for businesses, many of which are racing (like Titanic guests searching for rescue boats) to build their Likes and Friends. The lesson: these so-called friends mean nothing to your ultimate success or failure.
I'm not saying don't utilize social media, and I'm not saying it is not a valuable tool. What I am saying is that business is about personal relationships. The businesses and politicians that succeed (in the real world, not the social world) build those personal relationships and actually connect with people in a very personal way. Just because you are on my Facebook list doesn't create a personal relationship. It's no different than being on my mailing list or email list. Many businesses these days are focused on getting as many Likes (friends) as possible, whether they are customers in their target market or not. How smart is that strategy?
With many businesses spending resources and lots of time building these networks, I hope they all took a look at the midterm elections. There were more messages sent than just political.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Can You Turn Your Business Into An Experience

Author and management guru Harvey Mackey frequently tells a story about a basic cab ride from Manhattan, N.Y., to LaGuardia Airport. Mackey gets into a cab and the driver says, "Hi, my name is Walter. I'm your driver, and I'm going to get you there safely, on time and in a courteous fashion." The driver then holds up a New York Times and a USA Today and asks if Mackey would like them. Then he offers Mackey a fruit basket, complete with snack foods, juices, soft drinks, etc. He then asks, "would you prefer hard rock or classical music?"
This cab driver is turning an average ride into an experience. He's taken the most mundane experience imaginable--a cab ride--and transformed it into a special experience for riders.
Customers love riding in Walter's cab. His cab ride hits their emotions, and emotions are something that no competitor can copy.
This cabby thinks differently. He stopped thinking like every other cab driver in town, and discovered what it would take to turn his boring, mundane occupation into an experience customers would always remember.
You can do that with your company. Not with mirrors, magic or miracles. Just by thinking differently. As yourself, "How can I turn my business into an experience?"
-Ron Ameln, SBM

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Reports Of Our Death...

"The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." Mark Twain
The same could be said about our magazine. It is amazing the number of people I meet on a weekly basis that are convinced I'm lying when I tell them things are going well with our publication. They read the web stories about the death of print and they assume print publications can't exist in the new era of web advertising, social media, etc.
That just isn't the case, as many of my colleagues will tell you from around the country, especially for niche publications.
But the environment has certainly changed. The web, especially, has brought about new competition in the marketplace. Publishers need to be flexible, agile and willing to diversify to succeed. We're certainly not alone. The growth of the Internet has changed the playing field in numerous industries. Here are just a few:
-Travel. Remember a day when travel agents booked airline tickets and took a commission to do so. Not anymore. The travel agent our company used to use is now out of business, as is many of its cohorts.
-Insurance. Why use a neighborhood agent when you can use an online agent or company for a discounted price.
-Books. said. Have you been to your local, independent book store lately? Didn't think so.
-Couriers. Remember when you actually needed a human being to send a letter across town in 30 minutes. Now, with email, it's about three seconds.
These are just a few that come to mind. Each industry has to adapt and find a way to become successful in this new environment. It's really nothing new. Challenges are part of running a successful business. And really, what fun would it be without some challenges.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Dreaded Meeting....Making Them Productive

The business events I remember most from my brief experience working in corporate America are the endless daily and weekly meetings. Most were not productive. So when I became an entrepreneur, I vowed not to have them. Then I realized that was impossible.
Meetings are crucial, but how can you make them as effective as possible.
Author Patrick Lencioni, in his book, "Death by Meeting," says business owners should inject drama into their meetings to make the events more productive. For example, he believes the key to injecting drama into a meeting is being as direct as possible during the first 10 minutes of a meeting so everyone understands what is at stake.
Try injecting some drama into your next meeting and see if the results change.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Building Value Into Your Sales

It's a story most know by now. Wal-Mart discovered that a large percentage of its purchasing agents' time was spent researching and purchasing products, which contributed only a small percentage to profits. The solution: use the Internet exclusively to purchase goods.
It became Wal-Mart's new purchasing protocol and the company was able to reduce the size of its purchasing staff dramatically.
What did this mean for the many salespeople that called on Wal-Mart? Log onto the computer and answer the questions and good luck.
If you sell commodities, or anything these days, and don't offer something of real value, buyers will need you less and less. And that's not a good thing for sales professionals out there.
No matter what your business, you need to differentiate yourself from the competition and provide the real (I can't live without it) value.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Entrepreneurship And Vacations, Or Lack Thereof

We recently ran a column in our August edition by Sandy Washington at Commerce Bank dealing with entrepreneurs and vacations. Sandy wrote a great piece about protecting your accounts while you are gone. Great, solid advice.
But one sentence Sandy wrote stuck with me: "If you're a business owner, taking a vacation may seem like a pipe dream."
Sandy is certainly correct. Many owners I know never take vacations. "Can't leave the business," they always say.
Let me say this. If you are saying this, sell your business or shut your doors. Maybe you don't belong in the entrepreneurial club?
Why so mean? Your business must work for you. If you can't get away for a long weekend, it's not working for you. Work for someone else and get vacation time.
Get some help or advice and let someone help you build your systems and business so you can take a vacation. Especially for entrepreneurs, vacations are vital to recharging our batteries and preparing for future challenges.
-Ron Ameln, SBM

Monday, May 24, 2010

Is It Time For A Virtual Office

Inc. Magazine produced its April issue with employees working from home, coffee shops, restaurants, malls, etc. The publication made the decision to become a virtual operation, shunning its office and cubicles.
Is it time you start considering the virtual office.? Let's face it, small firms have a definite advantage when it comes to the virtual company. We are already lean and nimble and most small firm employees have become extremely flexible and productive over the years, mostly because they've had no choice.
The benefits: Cost savings (no more rent, janitorial, repairs, electricity, etc.) and increased productivity (no more idle time during rush hour and chatting with the guys about last night's game).
The downside: Clients may look down on your operation and a lack of employee interaction.
Like anything else in business, it will come down to your employees. Are they professional, motivated and dedicated enough to make it work?
As far as Inc., senior writer Max Chafkin told Folio magazine: "Nobody really hated it. I was more productive but less happy. You spend a big chunk of your life coming into the office, and it becomes a source of satisfaction."
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Can You Ask "That Question?"

A friend of mine was recently invited to a suite to watch a Cardinals baseball game. Towards the end of the game he noticed the attendant bring in a full tub of beef brisket. Knowing the food wouldn't be eaten before the end of the game, he asked the attendant, "Where does this food go at the end of the game?"
"The trash," said the attendant.
The next day my friend called up his business contact with the Cardinals and arranged a meeting with a representative from Operation Food Search.
The two talked and found a corporate sponsor to purchase two big refrigerators that now sit in the kitchen at Busch Stadium. Now, the unused food from the corporate suites goes into the refrigerator each night and Operation Food Search picks it up the next morning.
During the Cardinals first home stand, close to 7,000 meals were provided thanks to this food. With 15 home stands this year, that makes 105,000 meals.
One Person. One Question. 105,000 people fed.
This story isn't really about food. It's about being "that Guy" that asks "that Question." There are probably millions of questions out there that need to be asked each day. Asking those questions can probably help thousands and thousands of people.
Are you the person that can ask that question?
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Friday, April 23, 2010

5 Business Catchphrases You Should Never Say

1. The Customer Is Always Right. No, the customer is not always right. In fact, sometimes he is a blundering idiot that sucks time, energy and resources from your profitable clients. For some customers, it's just best to kick them to the curb.
2. People Are Your Most Important Asset. Wrong, wrong, wrong. The RIGHT people are your most important asset. The wrong people can get your company in trouble faster than Ben Roethlisberger at a night club. The key is to get the right people on the bus and send the others packing.
3. It Takes Money To Make Money. Remember all of those flashy E-commerce entrepreneurs from the mid-90s. They spent a LOT of money. The result: Nothing, nada, thanks and drive home safely. Most went belly up. Why? Maybe because they spent most of their money on exotic private jets. It certainly wasn't a lack of money, thanks to every VC with a pulse and a checkbook. Don't like that example, how about Enron.
It doesn't take money to make money. It takes putting money into quality, calculated risks that makes money.
4. It's All About Hard Work. It's not about 60 or 70 hour work weeks. It's about being productive, no matter how many hours it takes. Enough said.
5. It Is What It Is? By saying this, you've pretty much become a victim. If it is what it is, too bad. Take steps to change it.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Monday, April 5, 2010

The End Of A Three-Century-Old Firm

About four years ago before I purchased SBM, I sought out several entrepreneurs and asked advice about running a business. I wasn’t sure if I had the stomach to run a business. One entrepreneur said to me: “When you run a small business, you are always either six months from someone paying you a premium for the business, or six months from being out of business. This is always the case, no matter how well or poorly things are going at any given time.”
I thought of those comments this weekend when I read an article in St. Louis Post-Dispatch about Jaffe Lighting closing its doors. Jaffe was one of several companies SBM profiled in our January 2000 issue that focused on businesses entering their third century.
It’s hard to imagine the business no longer existing. It began as a hardware store back in 1892. The company survived the great Depression, two World Wars and numerous other trials and tribulations. When it opened for business, Benjamin Harrison was president of the United States. The company endured many obstacles over the years, but the recent economic downturn and housing crisis were too much to handle.
Just a few years ago, the company employed 45. Jaffe’s fate should be a lesson to all business owners. No matter how good (or bad) things seem to be going, there is a fine line between ultimate success and failure when it comes to owning a small business.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Is Your Business Heading In The Right Direction? Answer This Question

I had an interesting conversation the other day about the words entrepreneur and small-business owner? What do they mean? Are they both different creatures?

I think they are one in the same, but I seem to be in the minority on that point. Even if they are a bit different, there isn't much of a difference. Either way, let's not get caught up in semantics. If you really want to categorize business owners, there's only one question to ask:

If you (the business owner, entrepreneur or whatever you call yourself) are hit by a bus tomorrow and (God forbid) are no longer with us, is your company still going to be open for business Monday morning?

If you answered yes, congratulations. You are building a business. (You actually read the E-Myth and got it.)

If you answered no, you have a job, not a business.

Now, there is nothing wrong with owning a job. In fact, there are many advantages (pay, time, flexibility). And, it is not easy by any stretch of the imagination (sometimes more difficult than being CEO of a larger company). However, you're not building anything for the future. You haven't developed a concept that can stand on its own. You haven't created such raving fans that, even without you, still need what you provide.

Entrepreneur or small-business owner? Tomato or tomato!

Will your business survive without you? That's the real question.

--Ron Ameln, SBM

Are You Playing The Prevent Defense With Your Company

There is a certain defensive strategy in football and it is called the "Prevent Defense." What is it? Well, if your team is up by a touchdown or more late in the game, your coach might call for the prevent defense. Basically, it is a less aggressive defense that allows the other team to drive down the field but hopefully keeps them from having any big plays. Former coach and television analyst John Madden isn't a big fan. He's always believed using this strategy "prevents your team from winning."
I thought of the prevent defense yesterday when I read a stat that said 80% of small firms are waiting out the economy before hiring or expanding. That sounds a lot like the prevent defense.
My question is, why? In talking over the years to the area's top entrepreneurs, I'm convinced that a company should always be in growth mode, looking for new opportunities and constantly striving for more profits. Wait and these opportunities will pass you by.
Take Tom Schlafly, for example. Schlafly began Schlafly Beer in the back yard of the world's largest brewer. During his path in building the company, he never looked back, never stopped because of the economy, never diverted from his growth plan. He knew his opportunities would come from his own aggressiveness.
Today Schlafly's business is thriving. And guess what, he hasn't stopped striving for more success.
John Madden might be correct, the prevent defense might prevent you from succeeding.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Patience Is A Virtue When It Comes To Building A Business

A few years ago when we hosted a speaking event for sales guru Jeffrey Gitomer, one of his most important points came at the end of his presentation: "It takes time," he told the audience. "Sales takes time."
What? Takes Time? Are you kidding? We want it now, yesterday, last week...
David Siteman Garland of Rise To The Top said it best when we interviewed him about one of his challenges growing his enterprise: "Patience," he said. "I lack it."
He's not alone. Most entrepreneurs could say the same. Over the years, however, as I've met and interviewed some of the area's top business owners, patience was one of the most striking characteristics they all shared.
It all goes back to the corridor theory. Imagine, as an entrepreneur, that you are walking down the hall of your grammar school. There are doors every 10 yards or so and each contains opportunities that may help you. You peek your head in one door and check it out. If you like what you see, you stick your whole body in and maybe even stay awhile. If not, you head back down the hall to see what other opportunities are available.
The point is simple: If you are not patient enough to really find out about the opportunities in each room and if they can benefit you, all you are doing is aimlessly walking down the hall.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Raising Your Prices. Where to Start

The economy is still stuck in neutral and you've cut every expense you can possibly consider (goodbye two-ply toilet paper). Now, it's time to generate some revenue.
One option many owners never consider is raising prices. I know, I know...the economy, blah, blah, blah.
Dale Furtwengler, author of the book, "Pricing for Profit: How to Command Higher Prices for Your Products and Services," says now is the ideal time to create long-term profits and finally get paid what you are worth.
So, let's say you want to raise your prices tomorrow. Where to start?
"You start by ascertaining which of your product or service offerings generate the highest margins," Furtwengler said. "Then, identify which of your customers in that group are providing the highest margins. Next, you determine why they're willing to pay this premium--is it image, innovation or time-savings? Calculate the value in real numbers that these customers get that make them willing to pay the premium. Set your sales script to communicate that real number value, and then revamp your marketing to attract those customers."
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Monday, March 22, 2010

My Favorite Quote

"Life (personal, business) is a circus. If you fail to get a kick out of all three rings' worth of entertainment and can't accept the fact that NOTHING ever goes according to plan, you're in trouble. It's not that every cloud has a silver lining (lots don't); it's that every success is built on your taking advantage of the unexpected detours, setbacks and embarrassments that life routinely serves up. If you can reap joy from the mess that surrounds you, you've gone a long way toward stardom and happiness."

(Tom Peters)

--Ron Ameln, SBM

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Asking The Best Interview Questions

Finding "A Players" is one of the most difficult challenges for entrepreneurs. One bad hire can damage company morale and curtail profits. Here's one important interview question and what to look for in a response. A special thanks to Susan Martin of AAIM Employers' Association for offering up the question and response.
The Question:
What did you like best about your last job?
What To Listen For:
Be alert to a "profit" mind-set. As the interviewee describes the attributes of his previous workplace, try to determine whether he appreciates the fact that most companies are in business to make money. How often does the interviewee mention efficiency or revenue-generating measures that helped the company's bottom line?
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Women Succeeding In Male-Dominated Industries

The last decade has been a great time for women entrepreneurs. Nationally, women-owned firms generated $3 trillion in annual revenues in 2009, and one in five businesses in the U.S. with revenues over $1 million are woman-owned firms.
More and more of these entrepreneurs are succeeding in male-dominated industries. Take, for example, Ann Kastendieck, owner of V.L. Clark Chemical Company. When the former accountant purchased the business in 1991, sales were $20,000. In 2009, V.L. Clark had revenue of $7 million.
This growth is partly driven by Kastendieck's desire to persevere as a woman in the chemical industry.
"There were always those people out there who wouldn't do business with me because I'm a woman," she said. "But those are the people who ended up helping me because they make me even more determined to find suppliers who will work with me and build relationships with my customers."
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Small Firm's Secret Weapon

We recently made the decision to revamp the look of our magazine. The updated look and content was much needed and has certainly given a boost to our company and bottom line. A friend asked me last month is the design process took 10-12 months. I laughed.
I think it took about a month from start to finish. One month to transform our product, which makes up 70% of our yearly revenues.
Could that have happened at a large, corporate magazine? No way. It would have taken them a month to plan the first meeting. While we usually can't match our larger competitors with pricey technology and the latest gizmos, we can beat them with our flexibility. And so can every other small firm in business today.
Small firms have always been compared to gazelles, the fastest animal on the planet. Gazelles move at a lightning pace and have the agility to switch directions the instant they spot a new opportunity.
As a small business, this agility is our secret weapon. Look for opportunities and trends where you can use that agility to grow your business and keep competitors at a distance.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Perseverance: The Key To Entrepreneurial Success

Do you want to succeed as a business owner? Can you persevere in difficult times?
Hopefully you answered yes because that's what it takes.
Take, for example, Jennifer Raeker. When her father Bob Raeker, also the founder of Bob Raeker Plumbing, died unexpectedly on a Saturday night, Jennifer had to step up to the plate. Despite being just 27, she was now in charge. "I had no idea how to run the business," says Raeker. "I never got into the finances. I had no idea what was in our savings, if $5,000 or $50,000 was a lot to have, or how to pay the bills."
To make matters worse, when suppliers found out what happened, they assumed the business would close and demanded payment in full, putting even more of a burden on the company.
Unlike many things in life, you can't teach perseverance. It's an innate, instinctive trait that is usually passed along from generations. If you have the ability to persevere (find silver linings when others only see gloom and doom), you'll succeed in any business and industry.
Raeker certainly has the ability to overcome challenges. She's built the 54-year-old company into a multimillion dollar firm.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Monday, February 22, 2010

Little Things Can Equal Big Savings

Little things can equal big savings in a hurry. The trick is having enough savvy to spot the potential savings. Here in St. Louis, an owner of a day spa discovered that technicians were using three pumps on a shampoo container when washing a client's hair. While only one pump of shampoo was needed, the extra two pumps per client didn't seem like a lot at first.
Until the owner calculated one year's worth. She soon discovered she could save more than $5,000 from just asking technician's to use one pump worth of shampoo.
For businesses of all sizes trying to cut expenses, these savings are all around us. The trick is to really focus on controlling these costs.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Friday, February 5, 2010

Old Communication Tools Still Work

When it comes to investing, Warren Buffet has a legendary quote: "Most people get interested in stocks when everyone else is. The time to get interested is when no one else is. You can't buy what is popular and do well."
That's a great quote when it comes to investing, but it also applies to business as well. Keep this quote in mind as you begin your journey with social media. With everyone jumping on the social media bandwagon, don't forget things like letters and the telephone.
Ironically, in this age of social media and texting, one of our strongest sales tool is the hand-written letter. Yes, a scribbled, personal hand-written letter. Not one we ordered through a website, but a letter we actually wrote (with an ink pen and our own hands). Think about it. Who gets hand-written letters these days? It is a great way to stand out.
I'm not saying social media isn't a great way to go, or it doesn't have a future. I'm simply saying, Don't turn your back on the tools that helped you become successful in the first place. They still work. We're great examples of how these tools can work.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Are Your Activities Helping You Reach Your Goals?

One of the great things about being a business owner is you call your own shots. Every morning you dictate your activities and energy level. It is certainly a blessing many employees around the country would like to try for just one day. It is a blessing but also a curse.
Many business owners get so unfocused that they end up chasing one opportunity after the other, never really focusing on their long-term goals.
The solution: A plan.
Business owners are the worst when it comes to planning. Most spend more time planning their vacations than the future of their businesses. If you fall into that group, complete the following exercise:
Jot down where you want your business to be in 3 years. Be specific with sales figures, number of clients and employees.
Take a look at your information. Start to break it down. For example, if you want 300 clients in 3 years, you'll need 100 by the end of year 1. After you find out what you need in year 1, start jotting down what it will take to make those numbers.
Presto, you have a plan. Keep it posted above your computer. When you are bogged down in meetings or bouncing from project to project, take a loot at your plan. Ask yourself: "Is this activity helping me reach my goals?" If the answer is no, stop doing it.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Friday, January 15, 2010

Are You A Rock or Sponge?

Therapists have a saying and it goes something like this: "When people come to us with a problem, the real problem is never what our patients' think." In other words, alcohol isn't your real problem, it is something that is leading you to drink. A therapists job is to pull back the layers and locate the real problem, and then the patient can work on solving that problem.
I thought of this the other day when talking to a local entrepreneur. This entrepreneur has been in business for about 15 years and she attended a peer group to gain new insights into herself and her business. After attending, she came to the conclusion that "I've seen everything in 15 years and none of these people can help me."
Houston: we've found the real problem.
John Wooden, the great basketball coach, has a famous saying, "It's what you learn after you know everything that really matters."
Entrepreneurs are certainly independent. Many fled the corporate world because they didn't want to answer to THE MAN each day. Those traits are great for running a company, but can also hold these owners back.
Most of the successful business owners I know are sponges, soaking in everything they can. They don't put up a wall and convince themselves they "know it all." They use what they can and are always open to new ideas, no matter who might provide them.
One of the best ideas for Jack Stack, owner of SRC Holdings in Springfield, Mo., came from the janitor. That idea and many others helped Stack turn around the near-bankrupt firm around.
There's not much hope for this entrepreneur, but there is hope for you. The lesson: put your ego to the side for a minute. You don't have to take the janitors advice, but you should at least listen. Your future may depend on it.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Monday, January 4, 2010

Management By The Numbers

When I start talking about numbers with my entrepreneurial friends they all start rolling their eyes. "There he goes again, talking about numbers." I can certainly understand their objections. After all, these risk-taking business owners are leading companies because they have a passion for what they do, not because they have a passion for flow charts and spreadsheets.
I used to think that way as well. Until my business coach showed me how to use my numbers to solve the weaknesses in my business. The numbers always tell a story, and if you get to know your numbers, you can solve your deepest business issues.
This concept works in all phases of life and business. Take, for example, the St. Louis Blues hockey team. The underachieving team recently fired its head coach because of the team's poor performance. So, how does the new coach start to solve some of the team's problems? Well, a look at the numbers shows the team's two main weaknesses, a poor power play (one of the league's worst) and a poor home ice record (the worst in the league). If the new coach wants to get the Blues into the top 8 slots for a playoff birth in the next four months, he must improve on these two weaknesses. Really, nothing else matters. If the Blues were just .500 at home this year and average (compared to the rest of the league) on the power play, the team would be in the coveted top 8 already. Solve these problems and the team is in the playoffs.
The numbers tell the new coach where to look to solve the team's problems. The lesson: If you don't chart and measure your performance in a variety of ways, you won't know how to correct your weaknesses.
--Ron Ameln, SBM