Category — Small Business Expert Interview
Dollar Days Blog is pleased to present the business expertise of Ray Silverstein, author of The Best Secrets of Great Small Businesses. Silverstein has also written a new book called The Small Business Survival Guide: How to Survive (and Thrive) During Tough Times.
Silverstein also founded PRO: President’s Resource Organization, a network of peer advisory boards for entrepreneurs. As the founder of PRO, Silverstein has facilitated more than 1,200 “board meetings” over the last 16 years.
Dollar Days Blog (DDB) – Please provide a short bio and description of PRO.
Ray Silverstein – I created PRO in 1993 based on my success participating in peer advisory boards for larger companies. I wanted to help companies in the critical transition stage of doing to managing.
PRO provides the venue for small business executives to obtain the experience, insight, imagination and critique of experienced small business leaders. A monthly meeting with an experienced business facilitator and business leaders concentrates on issues of concern to the attendees in running a business on a daily basis. Emphasis is placed on working on the business and not only in the business. The discussion is candid and a camaraderie is created between the participants to help each other. Survival and success are critical items of interest to peer advisory board members.
DDB – What are some of the key messages in your new book “The Small Business Survival Guide?”
Silverstein - Cash is King. If a company is in a survival mode the outlook is very short term. No survival, no long term. Survival requires the business owner to take action they ordinarily do not want to take, but must if they want to stay in business. This may mean cut back of personnel, and only the best should be kept.
Management should have a complete understanding of break-even and the expenses that are necessary at break-even. This means an understanding of the different type of expenses involved in operating the business.
Remember that tough economic times are also opportunities. If a company is not in a survival mode this is a great time to improve personnel, market position and take advantage of situations.
DDB – How can profit and loss statements mislead you about the financial health of your organization and how can you protect yourself by projecting cash flow needs?
Silverstein – Again, the important point to remember is that cash is king. A company can make a profit and have cash go south due to increases in inventory, fixed assets, and accounts receivable. Not being able to pay vendors, financial institutions, or employees due to lack of money will put you out of business.
Financial institutions like positive cash flow and collateral. If you are in a service business, there is usually a lack of salable fixed assets. Therefore, no collateral to support loans. Therefore, only the cash flow of the business will support its ongoing activity.
DDB – You’ve suggested companies can write a ‘love poem’ to their customers to get to the front of the receivables line on collections. Are you being serious?
Silverstein – The goal is to create a relationship and differentiate yourself from others, with the accounts payable people. Everyone gets tired of being badgered for payment and may look with favor to someone who takes a different tack. This method has worked and was suggested by a PRO member. But of course a company can always take the “hard” line.
DDB – What is the best way to tell your banker if your business is in trouble – while still preserving a good business relationship?
Silverstein – A banking relationship is built on trust. You are better off being upfront and preserving the relationship. Bankers are more apt to work with those they trust.
But just saying you are having trouble is not enough. You must also propose an action plan that will resolve the situation. The plan must not be vague, but as objective objective and quantitative as possible. You should also try to have measurable goals you will achieve, even if it is still a loss. The bank will want to know when you expect to have positive cash flow.
DDB – What are some of the most exciting opportunities that the recession and general economic turmoil offers for small business owners?
Silverstein – The biggest asset a business has are its people. There are a lot of great people who are looking for work. Now is a time to upgrade your people. Companies that have the cash and fortitude are in a great position to enhance market share. In tough times, most companies cut back on marketing, but studies show that the companies that market now will grow faster after the economy turns around.
Times like these make businesses examine what they are doing and eliminate bad habits. This is a great opportunity to look at what your business is and more importantly, what your business should be. Then create the strategies to get where you need to be.
Does any of Silverstein’s advice ring true based on your own business experiences? Share your thoughts and contribute to the discussion in the Comments section below!
December 21, 2009 1 Comment
Dollar Days Blog is pleased to present the small business expertise of Joel Dubinski, Head of SMB Sales at InterCall, a company that offers conference call solutions for businesses including audio conferencing, web conferencing, and video conferencing.
Dollar Days Blog (DDB) – Please provide a brief bio and description of your company.
Joel Dubinski - I drive InterCall’s growing Small-Medium Size Business presence while maintaining its emphasis on customer’s needs and quality of service. I oversee a team of Inbound sales representatives responsible for InterCall’s online sales, while also managing multiple teams that are solving the collaboration gaps of InterCall’s small-medium size business. During my time at InterCall, I helped form a strategic partnership with Huddle creating the world’s first unified collaboration, communication and social networking platform.
InterCall is the trusted advisor to the small-to-medium sized business owner. Our company specializes in providing a variety of toll-free audio, web and video conferencing solutions, facilitating thousands of meetings each day. Our investment in the latest technology and bridging systems enable our clients to enjoy the highest level of quality and service from each and every conference call and web conference.
DDB - What is web conferencing and how can small businesses benefit from using it to run more effective, efficient meetings?
Dubinski – Web conferencing is an essential tool for small businesses. It allows them to reach a larger customer base without increasing their overhead costs. Web conferencing can demonstrate to their audience that they are in tune with advancements in technology and are willing to use something new and innovative to increase their productivity. With the use of web conferencing a small business can shorten their business cycle which will lead to an overall stronger output in sales, growth and reach.
DDB – How can web conferencing help SMBs project the image of successful, stable companies?
Dubinski - Many SMBs are start ups in every sense of the word. SMB owners may be working on a shoestring budget or even working from home, all the while trying to do the best they can to generate a perception of an established business so they can compete with larger companies. A professional looking and sounding web conferencing service conveys the perception of professionalism and an established business. Instead of using a sometimes unreliable home phone, landline or mobile phone to conference multiple parties in and possibly incur static or lost connections, a web conferencing service ensures clear, effective and efficient conference calls every time. Calls can be recorded, many parties can dial in and video conferencing can easily be added to enhance meetings.
DDB – What are some of the lessons that InterCall has learned from providing conferencing services to small businesses over the past 15 years?
Dubinski - Personally, I have learned that some business needs do not change. Regardless of how big or small a business is, people will constantly be looking for better ways to communicate and collaborate. InterCall is unique because our mission is to help provide conferencing and collaboration services to all businesses to help them communicate more efficiently and effectively regardless of size. It is also true that although a business may start as what is labeled SMB, it has the potential to grow into a larger enterprise company. InterCall wants to be there every step of the way and help them achieve their success.
DDB - Are there any new/exciting developments coming down the pipeline that SMBs should know about in the web conferencing market?
Dubinski – As web conferencing becomes more and more evolved, the ways to communicate change. The addition of VOIP and audio broadcasting to web conferencing solutions are becoming more popular as are virtual webinars. As web conferencing is becoming more and more commoditized these enhancements will help different providers differentiate themselves.
DDB – How can SMBs choose a web conferencing provider? What should they look for and what questions should they ask?
Dubinski - As SMBs start to choose a web conferencing provider there are a few things they should be looking for.
First, does the company have multiple options for web conferencing solutions? You do not want to be pigeon-holed into one platform if your needs change and evolve.
Secondly, SMBs should be looking to make sure that their web provider has a strong integration with audio conferencing as these services complement each other.
Finally, one should make sure the company is putting money back into its own products/services for enhancements and R&D, like InterCall does.
In regards to functionality SMBs should be asking the following:
- Is it easy to use?
- Is there a low barrier to entry?
- Is it a scalable product?
- Is this for small collaboration groups, large webinars, or both?
- Does it have the “core features” that almost all platforms have (Audio integration, App/desktop sharing, presentation uploads, chat capability, email integration)?
Those are some of the basic inquires I would be asking if I were purchasing a web conferencing solution.
Does your company use a web conferencing or teleconferencing product to communicate with customers, colleagues or vendors? Share your experiences and comments below!
December 7, 2009 No Comments
Dollar Days Blog (DDB) – Please summarize your business expertise in a nutshell.
Mark Stevens – My expertise is to identify and address what it takes for a business to grow and to move from one level of profitable revenues to the next.
DDB - Your bio indicates hat you did not attend business school, but that you got your business education on the streets of Queens. What did you learn there that helped you to succeed in business?
Stevens – The streets provide a far more enriching education than Harvard Business School. They teach you to learn from people who may not look “polished” enough to help you. To expect the unexpected. To act when your back is against the wall. To be prepared for random acts of opportunity and challenge.
DDB – Please explain your idea (written in a recent blog post) that less is more when it comes to advertising.
Stevens – Find a single key point about your business or product. For example, Walmart has chosen ‘low price leader’ as its single key point. Then push the accelerator on that. Avoid the temptation to tell everything about your business. The key messages will be lost in fog!
DDB - You’ve achieved considerable success with your book, “Your Marketing Sucks”. What are some of the key takeaways from the book?
Stevens – Throw out the traditional marketing playbook. It was written by professors who have never marketed/sold anything. Most important, measure everything you do in terms of revenue generation and stop all initiatives that don’t produce measurable results. ROI is king!
DDB – Lots of people might think that the title of your new book (God is a Salesman) is pretty cheeky. How could an omnipotent being, Creator of the Universe be a salesman?
Stevens – He is not really, and I address that right up front. But he teaches us the power of belief and faith, which are both critical for every businessperson.
DDB - What is the single most important thing that every small businessperson should do and why?
Stevens – Make the decision to be a big business person. Small business people work for themselves. Big businesspeople build a team to work for them….and to build their wealth.
What do you think of Mark Stevens’ advice? Is less really more when it comes to marketing? Join the discussion and leave your comments below!
November 30, 2009 2 Comments
Dollar Days Blog is pleased to share the small business expertise of Adam Ishaeik, CEO of Hunter/Wellman, a company that assists small businesses with acquiring federal contracts.
Dollar Days Blog (DDB) – Can you please provide some brief background on yourself and your company?
Adam Ishaeik - I have been involved with federal business development for 6 years. After my I received my MBA degree, I did a short stint with a large federal contractor and worked at the Department of State doing software release management as well as proposal support tasks. I really enjoyed the business development aspects of the job. While developing small business subcontracting plans (which outline how a large business will allocate work to the small business community), I realized there were a lot of small businesses that would benefit from having sales support in the Washington DC area.
I broke off from the large contractor, and started working with small business vendors seeking to do business with the government. As my success as a consultant grew, I knew the best way to grow was to incorporate as a company, bring in as many agency experts as possible and offer a full range of services to assist companies with their federal business development activities.
Thus, Hunter Wellman was born and we are proud to announce FY 09 was our best year to date.
DDB - How big is the opportunity out there to win federal contracts?
Ishaeik – The Federal Government is the biggest customer in the world, with a yearly budget of over 500 billion dollars. I would say the opportunity is huge.
DDB - What kinds of businesses have a chance at winning these contracts? For instance, is federal contracting just for defense industry businesses?
Ishaeik – The government utilizes almost every type of service and product imaginable, from janitorial work to cutting edge information technology design. Every federal agency procures a wide array of services and products from the private sector. To get an idea if your service or product is in demand; simply go to www.fbo.gov and type your service or product into the search field.
DDB - What are some of the techniques and tactics that you recommend small businesses use to compete against much larger competitors in seeking federal contracts?
Ishaeik – The first item is to assess whether the federal government is a desired client. It is a labor intensive activity to break into this market, however, once entry is achieved – the company can rely on steady income as many contracts are up to 5 years in length.
Second, treat the government like you would any other client – with a lot more bureaucracy and red tape. The importance of building relationships with the users of your services and products, offering a unique product or service, providing competitive pricing, and all the other tried and true rules of effective business development all apply. The element that separates government contracting from the private sector is the existence of comprehensive rules and regulations outlined in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and the contracting offices that are set up for each agency and sub-agency engaged in private sector procurements to enforce these rules.
Third, identify agencies that procure your offerings and the program managers who represent the end users. It is critical to meet with these program managers to build trust and reduce the risk in their mind of sourcing their requirements to unknown entities. The best way to do this is to bring in a connected sales professional who can navigate you through these waters – competent ones run about 250 K a year. If your sales budget does not accommodate this figure, contract with a company like Hunter Wellman to manage this activity for you – there are a lot of federal business development companies in the beltway, all with differing specialties that can assist your sales efforts.
Lastly, establish a contracting vehicle such as a GSA Schedule, a SBA small business certification that allows sole source procurements (i.e. 8a, HUBZONE, SDVOB), or any other MAS IDIQ (Multiple Award Schedule Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity)
Ishaeik – This is a great way to get started – partnering with a prime contractor. The opportunities are huge, but you have to bring something of value to the table. Relevant past performance is the most valuable thing you can bring. For example, if a large prime contractor is pursuing a contract with the Transportation Security Administration, the big company may seek small businesses that have experience at the agency to provide inside information and strong qualifications to their proposal. Another option is to presenting resumes of individuals at your small business who have experience at the targeted agency and offer their support with proposal development. If your small business pursues this option, make sure you get a legal review of the teaming and subcontractor agreements or you run the risk of putting significant resources into helping the large company win the contract without any guaranteed work.
DDB – Finally, what is the single most important piece of advice you think small business owners and executives need to know?
Ishaeik – Be patient, work smart, think positively and recognize the value that building relationships with government procurers can have for your business development units.
What do you think of Ishaeik’s advice? Have federal contracts been a valuable source of revenue for your small business? If not, does Ishaeik’s advice inspire you to try to capture a federal contract or partner with a larger company on work for the federal government? Share your thoughts and comments below!
November 23, 2009 2 Comments