Category Archives: Self-Assessment Tools

5 Personality Traits of Born-to-Be Entrepreneurs

salim99In today’s challenging job market, many of the unemployed or underemployed are going into business for themselves. In many cases, entrepreneurship wasn’t something to which these people aspired, but tough economic times forced them to find a way of generating income –often by starting a business.

You may be considering entrepreneurship for yourself, whether you find yourself unable to regain footing in an area of former employment, or because you think you’ve got the next great business idea. Whatever your reason, it’s worth taking the time to see if you possess most (if not all) of the following traits of successful entrepreneurs. Without most of these traits, you may want to think twice before committing to a business of your own.

1. Decisive. Entrepreneurs can’t avoid making decisions. It’s something they necessarily do every day – sometimes on a moment’s notice, and often without anyone else to consult. You can’t be wishy-washy about decision-making when you’re running the show.

2. Organized. Research shows that many small businesses fail due to poor planning. Smart planning can only be done on a foundation of good organization. If your financials are a mess, if your inventory is a disaster and your schedule is consistently chaotic, you’re probably not in a position to do any strategic plotting for your business’s success. Organized people make better planners.

3. Fit. Entrepreneurship can certainly be a highlight of a lifetime, and the source of tremendous personal gratification. But it’s no walk in the park. Running a business requires physical and emotional stamina. Are you fit enough to put in 12-hour days, six or seven days a week? That’s often what it takes to make a business successful.

4. Self-Motivated. When you’re the boss, there’s no one telling you what to do and when to do it. Granted, that may be part of what appeals to you about entrepreneurship. But running a successful business means you must be capable of both telling yourself what to do, and doing it. Do you have the passion to keep moving on your own?

5. Easy-Going. Are you the type who easily lets things “roll off your back”? Minor annoyances, insults, difficult personalities. If you’re naturally inclined to keep stress at bay, you may be a good candidate for entrepreneurship. Being in charge of a business is a stressful position to be in. If you’re already good at keeping your cool, you’re at a significant advantage. Furthermore, you’ll be coming in contact with many different personality types while running your business – some more pleasant than others. If you can tolerate the trolls, you’ll be on Easy Street.

Feel like you’ve “failed the test”, but your heart’s still set on entrepreneurship? No worries. Most of these qualities can be cultivated. Set some specific goals towards improving the areas where you fall short, and you’ll be setting yourself up for smoother sailing in business, and in life.

For those of you whose small businesses are in New Jersey, you’ll find a wealth of valuable information in my book Straight Talk About Small Business Success in New Jersey: How to Maximize the Growth, Cash Flow, and Profitability of Your Small Business.

Until next time,

Salim

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Don’t Make Your Customers Work Too Hard

salim96Do you have a retail business?  If so, ask yourself: How easy is it to find things in my store?

Do you have a website?  Ask yourself: How easy is it for visitors to find the information they need? 

Regardless of whether you’re selling products or services, whether in a brick-and-mortar location or online or by mail, ask yourself: When a customer calls my business with a question, how helpful are the folks who answer the phone?  Do you maintain Twitter and Facebook accounts?  Ask yourself: How promptly and thoroughly does my company respond to questions or comments via social media?

One easy way to lift your business head-and-shoulders above the competition is to make it as easy as possible to do business with you.  Some business owners have grown complacent.  Others may be lazy or unimaginative.  For others still, it has simply never occurred to them to do business from the point of view of putting the customer’s needs before their own.  Hard to believe, but it’s true.  This is good news for the growth-minded entrepreneur, because it makes it easy for you to provide a superior customer/client/patient experience.

Countless times, I’ve gone to a particular website and didn’t find the information I needed quickly and easily.  I continue to be shocked by businesses who fail to include a telephone number, or even what city and state they’re in, on their websites.  When information takes too much “clicking around” to find, I typically go back to Google and find another option.

Similarly, when I’m in a retail store that makes it difficult to find what I’m looking for, or makes it impossible for me to find a staff member to answer my question, I tend to go elsewhere.

What potential obstacles stand between your business and your desired customer?  What’s standing in the way of the sale?  Take some time to think about what changes or additions you can make to the way you do business that make it easier for your target market to say “yes” to doing business with you.

For those of you whose small businesses are in New Jersey, you’ll find a wealth of valuable information in my book Straight Talk About Small Business Success in New Jersey: How to Maximize the Growth, Cash Flow, and Profitability of Your Small Business.

Until next time,

Salim

New Year, New Jersey, New Business? Read This First.

New Year, New Business, New Jersey? Read This First. Will 2013 be the year you finally start that dream business in New Jersey?

Good for you, and more power to you!  I love watching passionate startups take flight.

However, I sincerely want you to be in the strongest possible position to succeed.  That’s why I hope you’ll read the following questions before you launch that new business (or, if you’re already on your way, read them before you take another step).

I’ve been helping to guide new entrepreneurs for years, and I see many of the same problems occurring within that first all-important year in business – problems that could easily have been avoided if only the client would have considered the pros and cons of entrepreneurship first.

By pointing out the pros and cons, I’m not trying to scare you away from entrepreneurship.  On the contrary, I want to give you an “edge”.

Why not be that rare small business owner who can honestly say, “My first years?  Mostly smooth sailing.  I’ve never regretted starting my own business.”

It’s entirely possible.  Start here by acknowledging some of the harsh realities of entrepreneurship, so you can be clever enough to succeed in spite of them:

– If you want to be successful, you need a clever idea, potential customers, and knowledge of business management, finance and marketing.  Got all that?

– 75% of new businesses fail within the first year, according to the Small Business Administration.  And 25% of those that survive the first year will fail in the second.

– Most new businesses are undercapitalized – typically because they’re financed with the owner’s money.

– Running a business is a lot less structured than working for someone else.   You must be good at motivating yourself on a consistent basis.

– In the first couple of years in business, be prepared to work long hours – at least 60 – 80 per week.  Make sure your spouse and family are prepared, too.

And now, let’s get a taste of the upside.  Remember these good reasons why you wanted to start your own business?:

– New businesses are exciting because they’re creative in nature.  You’re giving birth to something that didn’t exist before.

– You call the shots!  Finally, you are your own boss.  And maybe you’ve seen how similar businesses are doing it “wrong”, and you can’t wait to finally get it right.   You’re the (wo)man!

– What’s more satisfying than being able to say you did it yourself?  Owning a successful small business gives an incomparable sense of achievement.

Looking to increase your chances of defying the odds?  I’ve identified a four-step process that can reduce the risk of starting a new business. You’ll find it described in detail in my book Straight Talk About Small Business Success in New Jersey: How to Maximize the Growth, Cash Flow, and Profitability of Your Small Business. For the price of a paperback book, you’ll find a wealth of valuable information – 360 pages of it, to be exact.  Give it a read, and let me know what you think.

Until next time,

Salim

Top 10 Bookkeeping Mistakes Made by Small Businesses

Top 10 bookkeeping mistakes made by small businessesHere’s a checklist you’ll want to print, share and use.  You already know that bookkeeping is essential for ongoing recordkeeping, legal protection and accurate tax filing in your small business.  But are you making a mistake that could bite you in the butt later?  Here are the ten most common bookkeeping mistakes made by small businesses.  See how your business fares:

  1. Poor Receipt Recordkeeping.  Many business owners keep accurate records on larger receipts, but fail to do the same for expenses under $75.  Not only will maintaining accurate records save you money on your income taxes, but it provides much-needed documentation in the event of an audit.
  2. Lack of Professional Help.  Never fail to recognize the importance of hiring a professional to manage your bookkeeping.  He or she probably stays abreast of legal changes that can affect your capital better than you do.
  3. Sloppy Expense Tracking.  Too many business owners pay expenses out of their personal funds, then fail to keep track, whether the expenses are reimbursed or not.  Sound like you?
  4. Improper Employee Classification.  Some businesses use a combination of independent contractors and employees.  Be sure to properly classify your employees for tax purposes.
  5. Bad Communication.  Many reporting and other financial mistakes are avoidable, simply by ensuring open communication between employees and bookkeepers.
  6. Lack of Regular Reconciliation.  It’s vital that you reconcile your financial records on a monthly basis.  Errors are more likely when you drag your heels.
  7. Failing to Back-Up Records.  Every business should back-up their data to avoid crucial losses.  Are you protecting your digital records?
  8. Poor Sales Tax Reporting.  Be sure to report sales tax and account for your sales tax accurately.
  9. Bad Petty Cash Management.  It’s common for small businesses to operate with a modest sum of petty cash, but many lack a system for tracking it.  Set up a system to account for how on-hand cash is used.
  10. Improper Expense Categorization.  Business expenses should be properly categorized for proper tax reporting.  Formal bookkeeping practices can help reduce the likelihood of error.

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Your Small Business Has a Story. Tell It!

Imagine we’re having lunch together.  Across the white tablecloth, you see me leaning forward with interest.  You hear me ask, “So, what’s the story behind your business?”

Story.  Your business’s story.

Do you feel yourself blanking out?

Are you tempted to shrug and say, “I don’t think my business has a story”?

Ah, but it does.  Every business, regardless of what type of business it is, how you started it, and who you are, has a story.

I urge you to do some thinking to identify and clarify your small business story.

Your small business story exists.  And if you feel blocked about what it is, that only means you haven’t yet recognized it.  But it’s there.

What is your small business story?

Your small business story illustrates the essence of what your business is all about.  It’s a compelling description of the “big idea” behind your business.

Why do you need a small business story?

When your business story becomes clear to you, suddenly you become equipped with one of the most versatile tools for success.  In fact, your small business story is almost like a Swiss Army knife in your small business tool box.  You’ll be amazed how many ways you can use it.  For example:

  • A compelling small business story helps rally your employees.
  • Your small business story can help attract the best recruits.
  • Standing apart from your competition is crucial when it comes to building your business, too.  When you’re able to articulate your business’s story, you’re automatically equipped with the words to differentiate your small business – in marketing materials, advertising, customer communications and more.

What does a small business story look like?

You might be tempted to think back to your first day of business and begin your story with, “Well, first I unlocked the door and turned on the ‘OPEN’ sign in the window.  Eventually somebody walked in, and when he handed us a twenty-dollar bill to pay us, we stuck it in a frame for good luck.  Then we decided to add a jukebox…”

Your story is a little bigger than that.  And it doesn’t always start the day you opened your doors or pushed a button to take your web site live.

Your small business story could be about the glorious day when you decided to leave your job and strike out on your own.

Maybe your small business story is about the touching devotion of your employees who held the company together through the toughest times – sticking it out even when there didn’t seem to be a good reason.

It could be the inspiring story of an Illinois farmer who wanted to bring honest, low-cost auto insurance to the struggling farming people of his state.  That’s the State Farm Insurance story.

Or maybe your story is about you moving beyond your comfort zone to achieve a formidable result.

Questions to Help Find Your Story

When you started on your journey of entrepreneurship, you had an idea – a BIG idea – of how you were going to do things differently.  You had an idea, a big idea, a grand idea of how you were going to do it differently.

Ask yourself:

  • What set you off?
  • What experiences did you have that made you feel passionate about doing something differently?
  • What was the spirit at the moment?  Think back through the years of history and find one incident, one anecdote that reflects the spirit.

That’s your small business story.

Once you’ve got one, it will take on a life of its own, helping your business grow by leaps and bounds.  Your story will inspire others to become a part of it.

That’s how small businesses become great.

For those of you with small businesses in New Jersey, you’ll find a wealth of valuable information in my book Straight Talk About Small Business Success in New Jersey: How to Maximize the Growth, Cash Flow, and Profitability of Your Small Business.

5 Ways to Choose a Small Business

Are you embarking on a small business start-up, either in New Jersey or elsewhere in the US?  You might still be deciding what type of business you want to go into.  This blog post is written for you.

But even if you already have a good idea of the type of business you’ll choose, I encourage you to read on anyway.  It’s always a good idea to test and refine your idea, and this post will help you do that, too.

Here are five ways to discover your best business – or make valuable “edits” to a business concept you already have.

1. Brainstorm.  This one’s easy enough.  Sit down and brainstorm all the different types of businesses you could reasonably consider.  Write them down.  All of them.  You’re not committing to anything here, so remain open.  You can even be silly.

Once you think you’ve exhausted every possibility, revisit your list from the top, and start crossing out the ones you know aren’t for you.  For example, rule out the businesses that require talents and skills you don’t have.  Eliminate the ones that don’t genuinely interest you.

Now, you’ve got a list you can seriously consider.  Gather information about the businesses that remain.  Don’t be afraid to ask for advice – it would be a mistake not to.

2. Talk to other business owners.  Most established small business owners will be willing to share their experience and advice.  Don’t be afraid to ask for it.  Your local Chamber of Commerce or other business associations (like the New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners (NJAWBO) or the New Jersey Business and Industry Association (NJBIA)) may provide access to business owners to whom you can talk.  Look for owners of the types of businesses you’re considering.

3. Work for someone else for a while.  A time-honored way of learning a business  is to work in a similar business as an employee.  Not only will you get on-the-job training, but you’ll get a paycheck, too – and all while avoiding overhead expenses.  When scouting out potential “employer-trainers”, it’s best to look for one that is successful, whose business is well-run.

4. Ask for professional advice.  There are four key professionals you should get to know early in your business planning:

–        An attorney

–        An accountant

–        A marketing consultant

–        A banker

Share your business start-up plans with all of them.  They might point out factors you hadn’t yet considered.

5. Share with family, friends and associates.  Those close to you might come up with considerations that may discourage from your idea, or they might offer real encouragement for pursuing another idea.  Having the support and involvement of friends and family can be an added benefit.

Keep in mind, you might receive more negativity than encouragement from those around you.  Don’t feel discouraged, or forgo your idea.  Instead, assess the validity of their comments by conducting more research.  Then, if you find truth in their remarks, forgo the current idea and look for other opportunities – don’t let your ego get in the way.

Good luck in choosing the right small business to start.  And by all means, no matter what type of business you choose, be sure to subscribe to this blog.  It’s a goldmine of free information on small business success, from someone whose mission it is to prepare you for greatness!  Simply click on the green “Subscribe” button at the top of the sidebar.

Salim

6 Ways to Find Your Strengths as a Small Business Owner

History’s smartest business people have known – whether consciously or instinctively – to make the most of their strengths.

Before you can follow in their footsteps, though, you have to determine what your personal strengths are.  And they might not be obvious, especially if you’re a newbie entrepreneur or looking to make a big career change.

So, how can you zero-in on your particular strengths?  If they’re not obvious, what clues should you be looking for?

Following is a six-question self-assessment.  By the time you’ve given thoughtful consideration to all of them, you should have a pretty good idea of what you bring to the table.

1. What tasks attract you? In every job and in every business, there are tasks we dread doing, and tasks we actually look forward to.  What are the things you’d find some way to do, even if you weren’t getting paid?

2. What tasks do you lose yourself in?  There are certain things you do that make you lose all track of time.  What are they?  These are usually the jobs that best utilize your skills.

3. What do you learn quickly?  We all struggle to master certain skills, yet there are others we  pick up almost effortlessly.  If it seems easy, it’s probably because you have some natural talent in that area and a deep desire to learn more.

4. What do other people ask for your help with?  Pay attention to jobs you’re assigned or favors people ask of you.  They wouldn’t come to you if you weren’t good in those areas.

5. Where do you succeed?  Here, some people miss the forest for the trees.  Think back on the tasks you’ve performed best at.  You’ll probably find that      these tasks made use of your most important skills.

6. What brings you satisfaction?  You know that feeling of being “good-exhausted”?  Think about times when you may have been tired at the end of the day, but felt really good about how you spent your time.

Now that you’ve identified your particular strengths, you’re in a position to capitalize on those strengths in order to grow your business.

And remember – you’ll do better in business and in life if you concentrate on work that fulfills you.

For those of you whose small businesses are in New Jersey, you’ll find a wealth of valuable information in my book Straight Talk About Small Business Success in New Jersey: How to Maximize the Growth, Cash Flow, and Profitability of Your Small Business.