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// by Peg Corwin / Oct. 14, 2008 2 comments
growing-personal-guarantees-then-b-and-c-pockets-entrepreneurs-family-assets
Different Pockets for Family Assets Wife Barbara had more serious and long-term concerns.  She advocated this division for family assets going forward:

"A" = Keeps you off welfare

"B" = Keeps you to the lifestyle you are accustomed, i.e. new car ever so often, vacations, kids' schooling, etc

"C" = "Las Vegas" money to be used for entrepreneurial projects, especially if it looks like it is going into a black hole.

Years later, when Fontaine became an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, he invited Barbara to talk to his classes.  She told prospective entrepreneurs that risks they take can impact their families in unexpected ways.  To avoid these problems, she advised them to make the A, B, and C divisions for family assets. Lessons Learned After his experience, Fontaine has not personally guaranteed any more business loans.  Here are his recommendations for today's entrepreneurs:

"Treat loan guarantees as a cash investment. Better yet, avoid them  If you're required to provide them, negotiate an event-triggered or time-triggered release from the guarantee in writing from the lender going in."

But Fontaine also believes that "losing all your money is not the worst thing in the world. It forces you to examine the priorities in your life, teaches you what's really important, tests you in important ways, and is appropriately humbling." I am honored to have met the Fontaines on a trip to Alaska's Glacier Bay, pictured above. Entrepreneurs should be careful with loan guarantees and should maintain personal reserves of cash and assets, regardless of their passion for their business. SCORE counselors can help you assess your risks.  In fact, SCORE Chicago's mission includes risk counseling:

...we not only help entrepreneurs realize their dreams of success, but also help entrepreneurs understand the risks and commitment required to start a business. Success can be measured in insuring clients don’t risk their future by putting all their resources into business ventures that have no chance of success.

How do you think about risking personal assets in your business? Please share your thoughts in a post. Related links:

Should You Personally Guarantee a Loan to Your Small Business?

Business Owner's Toolkit:  Personal Guarantees

Betting Your Retirement on Your Start-Up

-Peg Corwin, SCORE Chicago View more posts by Peg

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// by Betty Otte / Oct. 13, 2008 16 comments
is-there-business-card-etiquette

I was doing SCORE counseling when a client came in, threw her business card on my desk with the card facing her. What is wrong with this picture?

1) no value for the card, her name or her company -- you don't throw them at people

2) no introduction as to why I would want her card

3) most people can't read upside down as well as they can right side up and 

4) no respect for me, the counselor, who needs to place value in her company. 

In short, yes, there is business card etiquette. Many of us know the Asian approach to giving and receiving cards. You wait until it is appropriate to give the person a card, you hand the card to them facing the client with both hands and you give them a minute to actually read and respond to the card. This may seem a bit formal for most of us, but I like it. There is in turn, etiquette for the card receiver. You thank the person for the card, take time to look and read it and respond appropriately. This little ritual places value on the card which actually represents the client and the company. Makes good sense to me. Business cards should represent value (to the person and to the business). 

I see no value in collecting business cards like baseball cards as there is no prize for who gets the most. For years I made a collection of President business cards. I wanted all the cards I could get of Presidents and CEOs with the vision that someday my card would, also, read same. The vision materialized, but I used the title Managing Director instead of President. Same value. Another big thing I like to do after the meeting is write a short note or two about the meeting on the back of the card to enhance the follow up "thank you." I have a special passion for personal photos on business cards, but that is a story for another day. Do I sound too structured to you? Do you find value in your business cards? Let me know your view? -Betty Otte, SCORE Orange County View more posts by Betty

Betty Otte
// by Peggy Duncan / Oct. 9, 2008 7 comments
marketing-what-does-your-email-address-say-about-your-business

In a recent post, I discussed how the paper and design you choose for your business card can affect the perception people have of your abilities and your business. Your email address does too. As I network at different business functions and exchange cards, I'm no longer amazed at the variety. Why would you promote someone else's business instead of yours? I'm talking about @aol.com, @bellsouth.net, @yahoo.com, etc.

It's so inexpensive and easy to register a domain which comes with at least one free email account. Then use that opportunity to put up at least one Webpage (not one that says Under Construction!) or a blog. Establishing an email address with yourbusiness.com instead of someone else's makes you appear more stable, reliable, and professional.

Something else that makes me shake my head are email addresses such as cutesuzy@xx.com, beingblest@xx.com, hardliquor@xx.com. Everything you put forth in your business should be about business, look like business, and act like business. Why would you do anything else but that? What image do you want to project? Are you on target? If not, what are you waiting on? -Peggy Duncan, SCORE Atlanta   View more posts by Peggy

Peggy Duncan
// by Peg Corwin / Sep. 30, 2008 4 comments
life-balance-6-questions-organize-week-peggy-duncan-looking-over-my-shoulder

It's Saturday and I'm sitting here with my second cup of coffee, ready to organize my week. I'm no time management expert like fellow blogger Peggy Duncan, but here are the 6 questions I ask myself.

1. What is already scheduled? I take a sip of coffee and look at the calendar. I find two meetings on Thursday, one that requires preparation. I block out time on Wednesday to get ready. And I've committed to do a podcast in early October, which requires at least a day of work. I make that my main project for Monday. Also, on that day I schedule the review blog posts I've drafted for this week. When I notice that Wednesday is October 1st, I add the task of reviewing my October followup folder to that day. Again, my first step is to review what I have already scheduled for the week and block out time to prepare.

2. What's left over from last week? Second sip of coffee as I page back through my calendar. I didn't get as far as I wanted with revisions to policies on email targeting for SCORE Chicago. I plan to review best practices, develop recommendations, and run them by SCORE Chicago marketing experts. OK, that's Tuesday's big project. The second step, then, is to integrate carry-over projects from last week into this week.

3. What are my family commitments? We've just moved the in laws from Tucson and promised them weekly outings. I think through the possibilities and put a "senior bus pass for Mary and lunch" on my calendar for Wednesday. Note to self: discuss weekend plans with the man in my life. Step three is to block out family time.

4. What do I have on my priority list? I'm sure Peggy has this all automated, but my priorities are in Excel, with columns for category, task, priority and detail. That way I can sort by priority or by category. (I'm SCORE Chicago's marketing chair, and work on many marketing and administrative projects with numerous people. ) The email revision project is already scheduled, but the list reminds me about website conversion tracking and a nonprofit TV listing. I put those on Friday, along with regular client followups. The fourth step involves a thoughtful review of the priority list and assignment of new projects to a specific day.

5. What should I do with the loose ends on my desk? Yep, that's my real desk in the pic above. Peggy would never have any loose ends on her desk, but I do. I move the materials I have pulled together for the podcast into a folder. (Don't tell Peggy -- who lives paperless -- but I sometimes spread out project piles by day, with PostIts marked "Tuesday" and "Friday".) I add an email followup note for Thursday and payroll tax returns for Friday to the calendar. Other dribs and drabs get scheduled on Friday, too. Today, I take a moment to transfer all those blog post ideas on scraps of paper to my master post list. Step five is to prioritize and process paper on my desk.

6. What do I WANT to do next week? I savor that last sip of coffee and reflect. I really want to work more on my online marketing techniques series-- OK Friday. I want to read more -- all the good stuff gathered from my favorite blogs in my Google Reader account and those books on my nightstand. I find if I write "Google Reader" on my calendar for Sundays, I will log in and read. And I resolve to spend that hour before bed on those novels as often as possible. Workouts are listed Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Step six, then, is to find time in the week for what you want to do. P.S. I admit that this post was totally unscheduled for Saturday, but I just couldn't resist.

OK, Peggy, how do you organize your week?

Fellow Blogger Peggy Duncan's Response: Peg, it's so important that you wake up in the morning knowing what you're going to do, where you're going, and how to get there. You work a lot like I do, always planning and scheduling ahead. I mostly live and work inside of Microsoft Outlook, using Calendar to schedule work that will require chunks of time, and using Tasks to keep up with quick things I need to do. Reminders are set on all this. In a previous post, I discussed my Talking Alarm Clock that I use to remind me of my most critical work. I also use a spiral notebook for all of my miscellaneous to do's and voicemail messages. I highlight the work I didn't get done so I know at a glance what I still need to work on. In your #5, I'm not completely paperless...though I rarely print anything. But my projects are in folders in a desktop organizer which comes with 25 clear, plastic folders that are staggered so I can see each tab. I have folders labeled TODAY for things I want to do immediately; TO DO I is for items I need to do within a few days; and TO DO II is work I can procrastinate on...I need to do it, but it doesn't matter when. Other work folders include TO RESPOND (things I need to write). Depending on a work situation, others might have folders labeled TO COPY, TO FAX, and so on. I also have folders labeled for each ongoing project I have, one for each of my books I've authored, and others for my major clients that hire me to train regularly. I keep everything in folders so I won't get distracted by one thing while working on another.

Readers, how do you organize your week? -Peg Corwin, SCORE Chicago View more posts by Peg

Peg Corwin
// by Peg Corwin / Sep. 23, 2008 7 comments
starting-avoid-these-8-mistakes-your-business-plan
4. Unrealistic Costs. Mitch observes that prospective small business owners are "not realistic about costs associated with the cash flow plan." Marge finds "cost estimates, especially build-outs, are usually incomplete, not researched, not based on at least three estimates, don't allow for contingencies, and often include too much startup inventory."

5. Vague Pricing. Esh is concerned that clients "do not have a good handle on estimating pricing of their product/service. This affects the break-even sales projections (if they do these at all) and other financial projections."

6. Unrealistic Projections. Mitch suggests that entrepreneurs are generally "too optimistic about sales growth and operating expenses." Marge notes clients' plans often have "no basis for projections, such as research, past sales and/or letters of intent." Esh states that clients "do not understand how to forecast (estimate/guesstimate) their sales. Therefore all financial projections become unrealistic." Carlos Bastidas agrees; he often sees sales projections that are "not defined on solid basis, poorly researched. The result either is very optimistic or very pessimistic profit forecasts."

7. Poor Understanding of Cash Flow and Its Implications. Larry finds that too often clients "lack understanding of how cash flow estimates determine the amount of money needed in the business before you begin. Most businesses need working capital before they turn the cash corner." Says Al, "The key is cash flow projections. It tells the lender how they get paid back." And "one important deficiency is a clear understanding of the financial information such as cash flows, profit and loss tables and break-even points," notes Carlos.

8. No Exit Strategy. Esh worries that too many "business plans have no exit strategy. This applies especially when large amount of money has to be borrowed. The financing people want to know what happens to the business if something happens to the owner."

Bob Paul, who teaches business plan workshops, recommends: "Don't think of your business plan as primarily an external document for investors. Instead create it for yourself and your team. This focus also helps eliminate a lot of fluff and has a better chance of focusing on critical issues and action plans. After you write an internal business plan, you can always use portions or dress it up for banks and investors." Carlos encourages entrepreneurs to write their own plans. When it's drafted by a consultant or friend, he says, "it does not reflect what the owner of the business really wants, or the owner is completely detached from the contents of the document." In sum, Al advises prospective entrepreneurs to remember the 5 C's for a good plan (and successful business): Cash Flow, Credit, Capital, Collateral, and Conditions. Are you struggling with any of these 8 mistakes? Find your local SCORE office and a free counselor to help you through it. If you're in the Chicago area, you are invited to sign up to talk to one of us. Other links on mistakes to avoid:

9 Top Business Plan Mistakes (from discussions with banks, venture capital and private equity firms, and individual investors.)

Don't Make These Critical Mistakes in Your Business Plans from Profit Dynamics survey of 250 venture capital firms.

10 Top Business Plan Mistakes, by Andrew Clarke, on Entrepreneur.com

Ten Top Business Plan Problems Victoria Posner of BizPlan Rx. (she has a background in commercial lending.)

SCORE's advice on Thinking Through Your Business Plan

Related post of mine: What's Missing From Everyone's Marketing Plan Drafts?

Peg Corwin, SCORE Chicago More posts by Peg

Peg Corwin
// by Roz Goldmacher / Sep. 19, 2008 0 comments
networking-cope-busy-fall-season-meetings-events

Remember, navigating the “lunch, munch and brunch scene” doesn’t have to be an unrewarding marathon. Attend those events where you have a real interest in supporting the group/event or feel you can benefit personally or professionally from the time spent. After many years on the “lunch, munch and brunch circuit,” I have created the following rules for myself to help decide how to spend my time effectively in networking. I hope you will find them helpful in managing your networking time: 

Assess the group before you assess the event. Is this a group that can provide meaningful sales leads? Can it help you and your company improve the way you do business? Can it provide resources to help your clients? Is it a group which gets things done & has an impact in its mission? Does it provide a benefit to the community, you individually, or your company or clients? If you can’t answer yes to any of these questions, then don’t waste your time.

Decide on Your Time. Assuming you have answered yes to one or more of the questions about the group itself, now look at the event you’re considering. First and foremost- is it at a convenient time for you? Nothing is more important than you and you always need to keep your needs as a priority. No amount of networking will provide benefit if you’re overstressed, overwhelmed or unable to focus.

Will the event advance a personal or business interest? Will it advance your position in the group or with the attendees? Don’t just think about short-term benefits – think about the long-term value. As all veteran networkers know, networking is not short-term. It’s about relationships--and it takes lots of time and energy invested over a long period to build those relationships. You don’t want to be known as someone who takes and runs, you should also be finding a way to give back.

Once at an event, maximize your time there. Make sure to network with people you don’t know in addition to your friends. Wear a nametag (with big letters- (we’re all aging with sight challenges). Wear the nametag on your right shoulder. When someone goes to shake your hand, his/her line of sight automatically goes there. Have plenty of business cards. Stand in the bar or food lines and strike up a conversation with people near you. If you have the opportunity to speak or in other ways be the center of attention, take it…you can’t sell to people or receive resources from them if they don’t know you.

Ultimately, successful networking is productive and you will be more productive if you have fun while you work! -Roz Goldmacher, guest blogger

Roz Goldmacher
// by Peggy Duncan / Sep. 11, 2008 2 comments
technology-which-computer-files-should-you-back-up

In my previous post, I promised to outline which files you should back up in your disaster planning efforts. Here is what I do (I use an online media vault that backs up everything automatically. See previous post.)

  • My Documents Folder: My two main business folders are subcategorized into broad categories, then separated into smaller subcategories. Keeping like subjects together makes it easier to back up everything (and to find anything I need later).
  • Outlook Files: You can back up Outlook to include your contacts, emails, calendar, tasks, and journal entries. You'll want to back up the Outlook.pst file. You will probably also want to back up your signature files and rules if you've set them up. (To find out where these files are on your computer, use your Search function or Google it).
  • Templates: If you create any templates (with the .dot, .xlt, .pot extensions), they're automatically saved outside of the My Documents structure. To find out where your templates are stored, in Word, click the Tools menu, Options, File Locations tab. Double-click the location that reads User Templates.
  • Downloaded Programs: These are miscellaneous applications I've either purchased or downloaded for free. I don't have the CD. Instead of saving these in the default Programs folder, I put them in a separate one called My Downloaded Programs. If I have to restore my computer files, I won't have to remember which applications I downloaded.
  • My Books: These are all the files I have for all the books I've written. I keep these outside of my main business files folder and off my computer because the files are so large. In addition to being backed up on my external hard drive and online vault every day, I also burned these files to a CD (stored in a fireproof media safe in my office) and also saved them onto a flash drive that I keep with me. 
  • QuickBooks Files: In addition to being backed up on my external hard drive and online vault every day (if changes have occurred), I also back up my company's accounting file on my computer's hard drive (QuickBooks has a backup feature built in. Anytime it asks you if you want to back up, click yes! The file that is created is the one you'll want to back up online, etc.).
  • Internet Favorites. I've bookmarked some great sites and don't want to lose the easy access. To find where your Favorites are stored using Windows XP, double-click My Computer, double-click the C: Drive, double-click Documents and Settings, double-click on your username folder. You should see your Favorites folder. (If you use Windows Vista, click the Start button, click the name of your computer, under Folders, you should see Favorites...back this up.)
  • Pictures. Pictures I use on my Website are safe on the Web server. All others are saved in the My Pictures folder.
  • Special Projects. I'm working on my family tree with the software Family Tree Maker and am backing up this file.

Did I forget anything? Let me know. Simplify your life, and make data recovery one less thing you have to worry about. If you don't think you have time to deal with this now, how will you find time to recover later? - Peggy Duncan

Peggy Duncan
// by Peg Corwin / Sep. 9, 2008 4 comments
marketing-whats-missing-everyones-marketing-plan-drafts

What's missing from everyone's marketing plan draft?

The action plan.

And a detailed marketing budget.

As a SCORE counselor, I read and comment on lots of business plans. Invariably entrepreneurs are unaware that marketing takes significant time and effort. And they typically underestimate what the marketing and sales activities that they so blithely propose will cost.

An action plan is a monthly or weekly schedule of marketing activities, an estimate of the hours required, and the name of the person or persons who will put in those hours. Or the quotes from vendors to do the activity. And weekly or monthly targets for hits, leads, sales, etc.

A marketing budget is a list of the costs of all marketing and sales efforts in a particular time period. When I read a plan, I note the marketing activities and estimate their costs on a yellow pad. I expect each to show up in a detailed marketing budget, with the total of these in business plan financials, on the marketing/selling line.

"Free" Activities Have Costs, Particularly Someone's Time You're going to go after partnerships where you exchange services, at no cost to either party? How about the transportation costs of making the calls to set up these deals? Expenses to pick up the tab at Starbucks? What about costs of an attorney to review agreements? Or maybe you plan on free PR, you say. Ok, who is writing the releases? How many releases per month? Are you going to submit them to professional PR outlets online? If so, you are likely to be paying $250+ per release. Do you have topics to write about other than your products and services? You are not likely to get much pickup from releases with a purely promotional angle. ("News" has multiple sources, while PR has one -- you. Professional publications are looking for topical news, not copy on your latest product offering.) Who's writing all those emails to prospects and customers you are talking about? Who will handle the email database, analyze results, refine the lists, deal with bad emails? Don't wave your hands and say viral marketing or word of mouth. These are not as easy as they sound. Furthermore, writing articles, creating products to give away, setting up affiliate programs and the like all take someone's time. Do you plan to do your own marketing at first, along with everything else involved in launching a business? If so, the action plan will show you how much time you need to allocate to marketing activities.

Plan for Ongoing Marketing Without a sustained marketing effort over the first year, your business has no chance to get off the ground. While concentrated in the launch stage, marketing activities and costs must continue throughout the year. Get some quotes from PR and marketing agencies to handle this, and you will begin to understand the time/money that "full court press" marketing requires. So if you're asking me to comment on a draft of your business plan, please include a marketing action plan and budget for the first year in your appendix.

What am I missing in marketing action plans and marketing budgets? Please leave me a comment. Peg Corwin, SCORE Chicago More posts by Peg

Peg Corwin
// by Peggy Duncan / Sep. 4, 2008 0 comments
technology-if-your-business-burned-down-today-could-you-recover-your-files
September is National Preparedness Month so use this as a reason to set up systems that will protect your data from disaster. It could be something as simple as a computer crash (as mine did recently), or as drastic as a fire or flood. If anything ever happens and you have to recover data, make it as painless as possible. To simplify offsite/online storage, use an online media vault such as Carbonite.com or MozyPro.com (I prefer Mozy because their tech support is 24/7/365. Both are free to inexpensive. This technology backs up designated files to an online vault every day as they change on my computer. And both services keep my files organized exactly the way I have them on my computer...I'm anal about this.)

 

My external hard drive also provides automatic backups. And I have my most-used files saved on a 4GB thumb drive for easy access when I'm offline and traveling.
 

In addition to having the means to automatically back up your data, you should also know which files to back up. Next week's post will go into more details about this. So go ahead and research which service fits your needs and get this done today! - Peggy Duncan

Peggy Duncan
// by Susan Solovic / Aug. 29, 2008 3 comments
susan-solovic/life-balance-de-stress-business-success

The stress of starting and growing a business can take its toll on you and those around you. That's why it's important to take care of yourself – your company’s most valuable asset. Stress is the number one cause of illness in our country. Learning how to manage your stress level is not only a smart decision, but it's also critically important for your business success.

When you are stressed out and feeling overwhelmed, it’s impossible to be at the top of your game.  Most likely, your productivity level will drop and the quality of your work may suffer.  Your judgment and decision making can become impaired. Certainly, emotions bubble to the surface more easily.  Of course, long-term stress can cause serious, even life-threatening, medical problems.  Then what good will you be to your business?  Be realistic about what you expect of yourself and don't over commit. Learn to say "no" and really mean it. 

Women, including me, have a tendency to take on the world.  When you realize you’re not superwoman and you can’t do it all then your opportunity to succeed is enhanced.  There are only 24 hours in every day and no one, not even you, can change that.  Manage your time wisely so the hours you spend building and growing your business are productive and profitable.  Carve out personal time to energize your mind and your body.  You understand the importance of taking care of your business assets so make it a priority to take care of the most important one – you.   -Susan Wilson Solovic, guest blogger

Susan Solovic
CEO and Co-founder
It's Your Biz
Susan is CEO and co-founder of It's Your Biz and an award-winning entrepreneur and journalist, author of three best-selling books, a multimedia personality, contributor to ABC News and other outlets, a public speaker and an attorney.