Posts Tagged conflict management
Often small businesses build relations with various suppliers and channel partners only to later find the relation is not as strong as first thought. The small business entrepreneur needs to protect against interruption occurring in the supply chain and make sure that everyone involved is on the same page.
I have had the unfortunate experience of working with a channel partner only to find later the channel partner only had its own interests in mind. I found the channel partner did not share a common vision and did not want to genuinely build a lasting relation. After working hard to build a good relation, the channel partner let the company down by not performing up to expectations. I call this the “snake in the grass” syndrome.
Because of this experience, I encourage small business entrepreneurs not to put all their eggs in one basket. As much as an owner likes a particular channel partner, competition is good and promotes efficiency. An interruption in the supply chain can have devastating effects on the small business. Consider what would happen if a missing link exists in the supply chain. Finding a new channel partner at the last minute is not easy and could harm the quality of the product or the service provided to customers. I suggest finding at least three suppliers for every slot in the supply chain to avoid last-minute problems.
Another step a small business entrepreneur can take is to make at least an annual evaluation of all channel partners in the supply chain. A business is only as strong as the weakest link in its supply chain so it pays to remove weak channel partners and replace them with stronger ones. I suggest developing a formal written evaluation form and think about what is important to the business.
Do you have a procedure to evaluation channel partners in your supply chain? I want to hear your thoughts? If you want to know more about how to remove the “snake in the grass” I urge to get help now. Learn more.
Many times people starting a new business find a partner they know little about. Defining the roles partners play in the business at the start is important to avoid problems later. Looking at a live example might help identify the problem and discover some lessons learned from forming a new partnership. This story applies to either a partnership or a small business corporation such as a limited liability company or an S corporation.
Joe and Jerry worked together as real estate agents at a local brokerage and decided they wanted to start their own. Joe had extensive experience in management and finance. Jerry came from the ministry after serving as an Episcopal priest. Joe and Jerry worked well together as real estate agents, but knew little about each other otherwise.
The two men worked together to develop a plan to start their own business. Joe and Jerry decided to divide the business equally and make an equal contribution. Joe and Jerry did not know is the role each would play in the business, but Joe believed Jerry had excellent marketing skills because of his dealings with people. Jerry believed Joe had excellent administrative and financial skills to run operations, but neither man shared their beliefs with the other or formalized the role each would play in running the business.
The men did work together to find a real estate office available at an excellent location and proceeded to lease the building. Jerry wanted to make the office comfortable and professional insisting on first-class furniture and equipment. Joe wanted to find sales Associates as quickly as possible to train and ramp up sales.
After leasing the office space, the two men worked to redecorate the office and lease furniture and equipment. Jerry took the lead on redecorating the space and Joe worked on incorporating a business. Each man did what he thought important to start the business and prepare for the grand opening.
Once the office opened, Joe worked feverishly to recruit sales agents to start finding business. Jerry showed up occasionally and worked from home. Joe quickly recruited 16 new agents and began to train them, while Jerry continued to work from home expecting a paycheck despite not having enough revenue to earn a salary.
Joe and Jerry started having discussions about how to develop enough revenue to meet continuing expenses. Joe continued working feverishly to train agents and teach them how to sell. Jerry continued to work at home contributing little to the operation. Jerry continued to insist he needed a paycheck despite a lack of revenue. Joe argued both he and Jerry should work the plan keeping the vision in mind for the future. Jerry continued to espouse his mission to earn a paycheck.
Although the sales agents started to develop, the revenue did not keep pace with Jerry’s mission for a paycheck. Joe felt good about the developing sales agents who started to ramp up sales. Jerry began withdrawing from the company because his sole mission relied on earning a paycheck. Joe started to feel overwhelmed because he had to do everything himself.
The lesson learned from Joe and Jerry’s experience is to know your partner and decide on their roles before starting a business. In this case, Joe took the role of the visionary leader to follow plan. Jerry’s only role came from his mission to receive a paycheck. A visionary leader needs to have teamwork. The missionary leader has more selfish motives and sits back waiting for business to develop.
Before taking on a partner consider not just how to divide profits, but what role each will play in running the business. Consider the expected time the business needs each partner to devote and what to hold each partner accountable for. Decide how often partners will meet and go over plans to stay on track. A few questions to ask include:
- How does the company track and share information?
- How does the company decide on use of available capital?
- How are organizing goals decided and carried out?
- Who is responsible for carrying out the strategic plan?
- What steps does the company need to seek more assets?
- Does compensation match with the role of the partner?
Are you thinking of taking on a partner? Have you defined the roles of each partner before starting your business? I urge you to do so before problems start to develop. Do you want help in setting up a plan and agreement for your partner? Learn more.
I read an article in Bloomberg Business Week about Andrew Mason. Mason is the headwaiter at a Japanese restaurant in Chicago’s Wicker Park. However, the job is Mason’s part-time evening job as by day he is the chief executive officer and founder of Groupon. What struck me reading the article is that Mason has matured from his playful childlike demeanor, which allowed him to develop the Groupon concept. Mason has become a more seasoned entrepreneur trying to hold on to what he started and run it in a more businesslike manner (Etter & MacMillan, 2012).
Although investors and analysts have challenged Mason’s running of Groupon, he has kept a lock on what he created. Mason wants to improve Groupon without giving it away to suitors offering him large amounts of money to buy the company. Mason turned down an offer by Google to buy the company, which would have allowed Mason to cash out. Mason turned down the offer despite problems it has had with profitability and holding up share value. Mason admitted the company has had problems with its operating system and commented, “we have to get good at this” (Etter & MacMillan, 2012, p. 50)
Meanwhile, executives at Groupon have noted the level of seriousness has notched up and the company now employs more lawyers and accountants. Groupon has even purchased other companies and has set up a location in the Silicon Valley in California. Despite his critics lashing out at him, Mason wants to preserve control over the company he started and claims he is in the business for more than just the money. Mason said his company wants to solve a business problem, which is his main motivation (Etter & MacMillan, 2012).
Although Mason may have much to learn, he has the entrepreneurial spirit to perfect and hold on to what he started. Mason still has a vision and he wants to cement it instead of giving it away to someone else. Mason still studies the disconnect in the operating system as maitre d’ of his part-time job at the Japanese restaurant and has learned from the experience. Even though Mason has learned from his experience, he realizes still has much to learn.
Only time will tell if Groupon can get to the next level, but I admire Mason for his stick-to-itiveness. I believe Mason has the characteristics of a genuine entrepreneur as he loves what he does and wants to perfect it. Money is not his only motivation and his quest for perfection overshadows any thirst to get rich quick. Mason continues to learn from his experience and enjoys every minute of it. Mason does not fear failure, but looks it straight in the eye. I believe more entrepreneurs need to reclaim the entrepreneurial spirit.
What is your take on reclaiming the entrepreneurial spirit? I want to hear from you. If you want to develop the entrepreneurial spirit I suggest learning more about how you can starting now. Learn more.
Etter, L. and MacMillan, D. (2012, July 16-22). Groupon tries to ‘Get Good’ at growing up. Bloomberg Businessweek.
One of the traits of a good entrepreneur is to stop people trying to take advantage of them by foretelling the future. So often I see people trying to sell their products and services telling the small business founder if he or she does not buy the product the sky will fall on them. Savvy entrepreneurs filter the predator soothsayers claims to conserve capital.
My advice to a new business founder is to buy goods and services as you need them only if they are absolutely necessary to the business’s plans. Predators will try to sell the small business founder everything under the sun. If the predator is so hungry, the small business founder should ask for a free trial with no strings attached to see if the product or service performs as intended. Before signing on, business founders should ask themselves if the product or service is absolutely necessary or if they can get by without it.
Capital preservation is critical when a business is in an embryonic stage. The small business founder should take great care to preserve capital. I have seen too many small businesses spend foolishly and eat the capital the company needs to survive. A savvy entrepreneur learns to make do with less. Learning to say no is a tough assignment, but pays dividends in the long-run. When in doubt, return to the business plan and only say yes to those items included in the business plan.
Are predator soothsayers knocking on your door? How do you deal with them? If you need help learning to say no I encourage you to get help now. Contact us for help.
Often I hear the advice the way to improve products and services is to keep all the costs involved to a minimum. Although keeping costs low is a good way to achieve enough of a margin to make a product or service viable, cost cutting can create other problems. For example, the product or service can have less value to the customer or consumer and cause them to select other more desirable products and services. In short, cutting all costs indiscriminately often is counterproductive.
Just yesterday I listened to a video interview of Steve Jobs and he embraced the idea the main goal is to produce products that customers want and need. Jobs commented that when he came back to Apple when it had experienced financial difficulty many of the corporate managers had a hard time understanding the idea of creating value customers want and need. The approach of Apple corporate managers focused more on cost cutting and less on creating value.
Jobs highlighted the idea that one-size-fits-all approaches do not work as well as more reasoned approaches that consider what customers want and need. Jobs said his philosophy to the turnaround of Apple came from thinking like a small company. Jobs found many good people still existed in the company even after he left. What made these people stay is their belief in the product despite the push by management to cut costs at every chance.
Creative people need space to create value and can substitute parts instead of cutting costs at every opportunity. Jobs explained Apple created the I-pod using substitution instead of cost cutting at every turn. Substitution allows creative people to consider consumers needs and wants instead of putting out a product that has less value to them. Job’s philosophy to work like a small company relies on the communications between company employees and consumers unlike big companies focusing strictly on product margins.
My advice is not to let anyone tell you to leave your brains at the door. Cost cutting is desirable when used correctly, but can also have adverse effects. Think of customers and consumers first before demanding cost cuts. Cost cutting is not an end-all solution. Have you had a frontal lobotomy yet? What does your company tell you?
I want to hear your comments. If you want some other ideas I encourage you to get help now. Learn more.
I read a blog post today about how banks have started to lend to small business again. Considering the bad treatment banks have given their customers I wonder how they will treat small businesses after cutting off lines of credit and other lending to them during the financial crisis. I suggest considering the credit union as an alternative to a bank for small business lending. Personally, I like getting treated as a person instead of as a commodity and credit unions have many advantages. I just opened an account with a credit union and I found the I received much better treatment and the credit union valued not just my business, but me as a person.
I remember an SBA loan I had with a small bank that a larger bank later took over. For several years the bank and I had a good relationship. One day I received a notice the larger bank had bought the bank and the new bank no longer wanted SBA loans as part of its business. The new management made it difficult to preserve the good relationship by charging new fees for everything imaginable. A few years into the recent financial crisis I saw this bank on a list of the banks the Fed had shut down.
Because small business financing sources have evaporated during the global recession, small business should consider using credit unions. Credit union unlike small banks are cooperative nonprofit organizations. As nonprofit organizations credit unions have an exemption from tax resulting in lower costs allowing them more latitude in making loans. Credit unions also enjoy lower costs from volunteer labor and employer sponsorship giving them the ability to offer lower rates. Besides offering small business loans, credit unions also offer other products like credit cards and car loans (Feinberg & Rahman, 2006).
The trend is for large banks to buy smaller banks especially in larger markets. This trend has resulted in less lending to small businesses causing a need for alternative funding sources like credit unions to service small businesses. Consolidating small banks has created less of an interest in small business lending. The lack of interest stems from the difficulty large banks have dealing with soft data, the more hierarchical bank’s need for more approvals, and lower credit supplies by the larger organization (Ely & Robinson, 2009).
Oriz-Molina and Penas (2008) found one way to mitigate opaque risk from small business is to shorten loan terms to watch the progress of small businesses. The more conventional approach is to want greater collateral over a longer term. Credit unions also have the ability to gain a better understanding of owners’ personal wealth. Although credit unions can focus on better addressing opaque risks using these approaches, larger banks often rely on credit scoring to approve small business loans to achieve a competitive advantage (Immergluck & Smith, 2003).
Despite the ability of larger banks to gain a competitive advantage in lending to small business, credit unions are closer to small business customers and able to forge better relations. Large banks have shown poor behavior in recent years making them less attractive than more personal, smaller thrift institutions. For example, banks have added new fees and restricted lending to only the strongest small businesses. Improved relations with small businesses promotes long-term relations despite shorter lending terms.
Consolidating small community banks into larger banks has caused banks to become less personal and more selective. Credit unions fill a social gap in the market because of consolidation of these community banks and the cost advantage they have from the nonprofit status. Credit unions can expand from solely personal to more commercial lending to fill this gap.
What sources have you considered for your business in achieving financing? Are credit unions part of the mix? Do you want to know more about the value of commercial lending by credit unions? Find out more about how you can benefit.
Ely, D. P., & Robinson, K. J. (2009). Credit unions and small business lending. Journal of Financial Services Research, 35(1), 53-80. doi: 10.1007/s10693-008-0038-3
Feinberg, R. M., & Rahman, A. F. M. A. (2006). Are credit unions just small banks? Determinants of loan rates in local consumer lending markets Eastern Economic Journal, 32(4), 647-659. doi: 1241333261; 35361511; 11879; EEJ; INNNEEJ0000065491
Immergluck, D., & Smith, G. (2003). How changes in small business lending affect firms in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. Journal of Developmental Entrepreneurship, 8(2), 153-175. doi: 502848551; 8351081; 38473; DVEN; INODDVEN0000469300
Ortiz-Molina, H., & Penas, M. F. (2008). Lending to small businesses: the role of loan maturity in addressing information problems. Small Business Economics, 30(4), 361-383. doi: 10.1007/s11187-007-9053-2
In another post I related my marathon experience to starting a new business. Let me tell you about the next episode related to my running experience. One of the people I met while training for the marathon included an avid triathlete. I started running with Bill who ran much faster than me, but liked shorter distances and preferred the challenge of the triathlon. Bill excelled most in biking, but ran fast at shorter distances. Bill often finished in the top three of his age group. Bill motivated me to buy a bike and learn how to swim. Soon after, I started training for my first triathlon. Unlike Bill, I found biking the hardest to learn and I had a fear of the water inhibiting me from learning to swim.
The triathlon taught me how to take on new tasks similar to learning new tasks involved in starting a business. Someone starting a new business has to learn new tasks all the time. The founder of a new business often fears new tasks just as I feared learning how to swim. Yet, as I jumped in the pool every day and started to swim laps, I started to enjoy swimming because it provided solitude and relaxation in the water without the pounding of running. I found this similar to a new business owner because sometimes a new business owner has to step back in solitude and reflect on what he or she wants to do. The founder of a new business continually seeks new ways to make the business fit and productive. Imagine having the resources to learn new tasks to avoid fear and learn new tasks.
Learning to bike created new challenges a as I learned to stay with the pack by drafting. I found bikers stayed close together in a pack to preserve energy and keep pace with other bikers. I also found this strategy is not without risk. I learned quickly if one biker went down, many would go down and when bikers go down together they are in great danger of injury. I also learned the best bikers pick themselves back up and continue the race despite their injuries. Good bikers learn from other bikers in the pack about preventing the danger and sticking with the pack. Experienced bikers work as a team to prevent mass wipe outs and hang together in unison.
Savvy entrepreneurs are much like the biker because they continually scan what other people in their business do. Entrepreneurs learn to keep pace and stay together to reach their goals, but sometimes take a spill and have to pick themselves back up and move forward. Risk is inherent in entrepreneurship and a business owner has to accept failure as a path to success. The savvy entrepreneur learns from mistakes and shares with allies to prevent further wipeouts. Think about having the resources of a team to avoid mistakes by working as a team.
When race day finally came I became nervous and had doubts about completing the race. When the gun went off I plunged into the water and began to flail away as people swam over me and bumped into me. I kept lunging forward and noticed the cold water had taken my breath away unlike the pleasing temperature I became accustomed to at the pool. I began hyperventilating and thought I would drown, but I kept stroking away and moving forward. I finally reached a turnaround buoy and caught my breath even though I had no safety outlet as I did in the pool. I started feeling good and could see the shore coming within reach. I realized I would make it to shore and still many people had struggled behind me.
Entrepreneurs also have their doubts when first starting out, but successful ones keep moving forward toward their goals. A business founder also takes his licks and recovers despite unfamiliar conditions. Sometime the entrepreneur feels like he is drowning, but catches a second wind by moving toward the goal. Successful entrepreneurs struggle just like the triathlete, but keeps the goal in sight and moves toward it. Imagine training diligently for an event like the triathlon and not finishing. Not finishing is not a choice for the entrepreneur. With a good coach the entrepreneur can find the encouragement to keep moving toward the finish line.
Upon finishing the swimming leg, I ran toward my bike and found my biking gear and prepared to mount my bike. The transition entailed finding my gear in a sea of athletes, bikes, and gear. I had to change and put on my socks and shoes after drying myself off with a towel. I watched others with more experience than myself who had the transition down to a science and minimized the time to launch into the biking leg of the race. Although I did not do too bad, I learned how to become more efficient by making the transition more of a process. I learned experienced triathletes practice the transition just like they do the three main legs of the race.
The transition taught me I can improve with experience just as an entrepreneur improves with experience. A small business also becomes more efficient the more process-oriented it can become. The entrepreneur learns how to become more efficient just like the triathlete in the transition phase. Consider how the entrepreneur can improve having someone with experience showing him or her the way instead of learning on the fly.
Once I began the biking leg I realized the pack of bikers I had to draft on had shrunk because instead of starting together, bikers began at different times following the swimming leg. I found I had to work harder to find enough bikers on which to draft and not let go. In some places I peddled by myself without a pack. I had no idea how to use what I learned in training.
An entrepreneur also faces uncertainties when conditions change unexpectedly. Just as the triathlete faces the lack of a pack on which to draft, the entrepreneur experiences unknown conditions through which to navigate by taking action. The entrepreneur at times feels alone without any support. The entrepreneur must work harder to find a solution just like the triathlete does without a pack. Imagine how the entrepreneur can improve by having some experience with change and how to adapt to it. Good entrepreneurs must learn to manage change just like a new triathlete.
As I approached the final leg I faced another transition from the bike to the run. The transition mainly entailed dismounting the bike and changing shoes. Again, I found experienced triathletes practiced the transition to cut down their time. The experienced triathlete made the transition so smooth it took very little time. Zaleski (2011) found entrepreneurs with experience have a competitive advantage.
The entrepreneur has to learn every facet of a business and gets better with practice, just like the seasoned triathlete. Entrepreneurs make running the business smooth through developing the right processes and checking them for problems. Although the triathlete measures the transition with time, the entrepreneur uses specific metrics to measure efficiency of different processes to develop a good working model. Blanchflower (2004) found entrepreneurs improve the chance of success by having a higher educational level. However, one does not need a traditional education to learn what the entrepreneur needs to succeed. Entrepreneurs learn on the fly.
As I started the run, I reaffirmed the running leg is my strength because I already had experience as a runner. I settled into a nice rhythm and looked for other runners to pace. Again, I found the field of runners much more spread out because of not starting all at once. However, I did find many people running on empty I could easily pass. I gained speed as I approached the finish because a 10-kilometer (6.2 miles) running leg is much shorter than a 26-mile marathon. I had the long-distance conditioning in my favor. Whatever time I lost in the swim and bike, I made up for in the run. I finished in a good time, but still could improve by learning from my experience.
The entrepreneur is similar to the triathlete because both gain from experience and learn along the way. Both the entrepreneur and the triathlete learn to pace themselves and deal with unknown conditions. Action is critical to both the entrepreneur’s and triathlete’s success, and both strive to achieve fitness.
Do you have the tenacity of the entrepreneur? Act now if you do and learn more.
Blanchflower, D. G. (2004). Self-Employment: More may not be better. (10286). National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved from http://www.nber.org/papers/w10286.
Zaleski, P. A. (2011). Start-ups and external equity: The role of entrepreneurial experience. Business Economics, 46(1), 43-50. doi: http://www.palgrave-journals.com/be/index.html