Going the Distance

Going the Distance

Most of us in the USA have heard this phrase, “to boldly go where no man…etc.” in reference to just about any adventure. Starting a business is not like going into the unknown and yet “unknowns happen.”

I’ve started several businesses over the years and I can assure you that there are always challenges you don’t expect. Aside from natural disasters, the most challenges new businesses have either are with cash flow or personnel issues and sometimes both at once.  In former blogs we have gone over how to approach some of the issues and no matter how much you plan still you will be surprised.

So how to handle ‘surprises’ that are not wanted or expected can be a useful skill. If your business is maintaining good or even Okay cash flow then the issues one needs to handle will be the ones created by those that work for you or with you or those whom outside your business you depend on in one way or another. Sometimes, more than you might want to recognize the “issue” you are troubled by may be a problem not created by someone else but by you.

Take a breath and take this in, we often create our own challenges and sometimes others help us do that or maybe simply throw fuel on the fire for whatever reason. It can be hard to see our part in a situation when the heat is turned up and time is an issue. But this is what we need to do. Stay calm. Stay centered. Stay ready to be flexible while working out a resolution that is fair to all. Of course, sometimes an employee will break the rules and or not learn from their mistakes. It is difficult to let some go once you have gone to all the trouble to vet them in the first place. But this should be the last resort in most cases of incompetency. Sometimes things just don’t work out, and relationships are one of the hardest things to ‘work out’.

In business there can be a middle ground where everyone is OK and ‘wins’ in one way or another. This should be the goal. Giving people a way to “save face” as my Japanese friends use to advise, is a good strategy.  But sometimes confrontations will need to be resolved by letting someone go. If at all possible always let someone go with some from of Grace. What is Grace? Well how would you like to be told you are not going to make the team? Be gracious and yet firm. Have specific reasons and give constructive feedback. No matter how upset the other person may be you can afford to be gracious even if you are terribly disappointed.

Keep on keeping.

The Challenge of Ownership

The Challenge of Ownership

Besides the challenges of having enough cash to start and run a business the next big deal is to get the business running well enough that the owner can afford good assistants or partners, and or workers so that the owner can begin to ‘have a life’ beyond the business. Building solid working relationships with employees is key to growth and keeping one’s sanity.

So how do you find and keep good help?

Some small businesses are a family business and whoever is available and ready to work may be your next employee even if they are not the ideal candidate. Most owners will be challenged to find a good assistant or sales person. Here are some tips. You want to find someone slightly over qualified who is truly interested in what the business is and wants to do whatever it is you want them to do. Easy said, I know. But the idea here is whoever you hire they likely will leave when they find a better job somewhere else unless…and this is really important, they have an opportunity to learn and earn more with your firm.

There needs to be a way for a person to both learn to excel at a job and have the chance to grow into having more responsibility and of course, earning more as well. If not you might have an assembly line of first time workers coming through and you will be spending way too much time training each one and managing them and no time to grow the business.

Where to find good people? Depends on what kind of help you need and how much you are will to pay or can afford to pay. But pay is not always the prime issue. If the business has potential for growth and is challenging in a good way, then you will have a better chance at finding ‘good’ help.

Good help can come in all shapes and ages and from every possible background. But it’s the individuals that have a more outgoing personality that often make the best employees if they also want to work.

Can you pick out who wants to work…not out of necessity but out of that’s just how they were made? There are tests to find these kinds of people but often small businesses don’t have the resources to go down that road. Meeting someone and shaking their hand, looking them in the eye and talking with them for 10 minutes should be all the interview you need. Let you gut be your guide. If it feels right to hire them then do so and get on with your business.

Some people are quick learners some not, but if they want to learn it will show in their actions and questions. If they push for more to do that’s a good sign. If they do tasks well and on time then tell them so and invite them to do more.

More on this later…keep on keeping on

Jane Applegate’s Management, Money & Time Quiz

Self-Help Quizzes and Do-It-Yourself diagnostics are popular features in women’s magazines, but rarely appear in business books.  Yet it’s worth taking a few minutes to think about how you are coping with the toughest job in America—running a small business.

Being an entrepreneur is incredibly stressful.  Despite computers, cellular phones, pagers, scanners, and e-mail, an entrepreneur’s life is not simple.  For most of us, it’s a chaotic juggling act.

So spend a few minutes with this quiz.  There are no right or wrong answers.  It’s meant to provoke thought—and action.

There are three sections: Management and Personnel, Money, and Time.

Management and Personnel

  1. Do you dread it when someone walks into your office to speak to you privately?
  2. When was the last time you had breakfast or lunch with your key employees?
  3. When was the last time you hosted an offsite staff meeting?
  4. Have you implemented any new ideas proposed by your staff since the beginning of the year?
  5. If you had a magic wand and could vaporize aggravating employees, who would be on your list?
  6. Do you spend an inordinate amount of time each day handling personnel conflicts?
  7. When was the last time you hired someone?
  8. Fired someone?
  9. Do you offer onsite training or tuition reimbursement?
  10. Do you have a mentor or colleague to call when things aren’t going well?

Based on your answers, you might want to make some personnel changes.  Life is too short to work with anyone who gives you a headache or a stomachache.  In a small business, every person counts.  And, since you’re the boss, you can choose who you work with every day.  If there is a “storm cloud” on your staff, think seriously about replacing that person.  Why pay someone money to make your life miserable?  On the positive side, take advantage of your staff’s bright ideas.  You are paying them to be smart and creative. Let them do their job.


  1. When was the last time you spoke with your banker?
  2. Have you thought about next year’s tax return?
  3. Without opening your business checkbook, how much money is in your account?
  4. How many of your accounts are past due?
  5. How much money do you owe to vendors?
  6. Are sales higher or lower than last year’s at this point?
  7. Do you have enough money to buy the new equipment you need to boost productivity?
  8. Is your accountant doing everything legally possible to minimize your taxes?
  9. Is he or she up-to-date on the new tax laws and provisions?
  10. How many new clients or customers have you gained since January?  How many have you lost?

Too many business owners play ostrich when it comes to facing financial issues.  You need to monitor your cash flow every day, every week, and every month.  Slow-paying or no-paying customers are not worth having, and it may be time to fire them.  Be sure to communicate openly with your banker—bankers hate surprises.


  1. How much time do you take for yourself every day?
  2. Do you feel exhausted before going to work?
  3. Are you working longer hours, but not accomplishing much?
  4. Is your to-do list longer than your shopping list?
  5. Do you have trouble keeping track of phone numbers and important notes and papers?
  6. Is your desk a mess and your to-read pile sky-high?
  7. Do your family and friends say you look tired?
  8. When was the last time you took two weeks off?
  9. How many times a day do you laugh? (It’s important!)
  10. Is your Palm Pilot or Visor overloaded with data?

No one is busier than a business owner.  But being busy does not necessarily mean being productive.  If you find you have little or no time for yourself every day, make some.  Try taking a short walk or afternoon nap rather than gulping coffee.  Ask a staffer to clip interesting newspaper and magazine articles and put them in a file.  Then tote them along to read while you are waiting in line for appointments.  Bring your calendar home at the beginning of the month and ask your family to book some time with you.  Put those dates in ink and don’t change them.  Taking care of yourself should be your first priority, because so many people depend on you.