5 Reasons Why Company Culture Matters

Company culture plays a huge role in the success of your business. While your company’s culture will naturally look different from another’s based upon the goals for the business, you can also expect that certain elements will remain the same. In an ideal business environment, the employees should feel as though their actions matter, and every person should feel like a contributing member of the team. As you focus on what makes working at your business unique, keep these benefits of a positive company culture in mind for improving the bottom line.

Keep Productivity Levels High

Happy employees tend to be more productive. Not only will they show up to work on time and have fewer sick days, but there also tends to be more collaboration among coworkers that increases everyone’s ability to hit their goals. A positive company culture also makes coworkers more eager to share their skills and engage in training experiences that help them manage their responsibilities better.

Recruit Top Talent

Your company’s success depends upon you being able to bring in people with the right personalities and expertise to get things done. Today, the top talent in many industries have their pick of employers, and they are often scouting out the company culture just as much as hiring managers are reviewing their resumes. During their tour of a prospective office and interview, people often inquire about things such as growth opportunities that let them know if it is a positive place to work.

Retain More Employees

Hiring and training employees cuts into profits. Not to mention, productivity always increases when everyone at your business has been there long enough to know how to perform well in their position. In a negative company culture, the turnover rate is high for employees, and the morale is low. Employees who feel valued and know that their hard work is recognized and appreciated tend to stick with their companies, which helps both parties thrive.

Cultivate a Positive Reputation

Brand awareness involves more than just marketing your business to the public. People also hear about things that revolve around the company culture. For instance, people within specific industries often share information with others about what it is like to work for a business. In fact, sites such as LinkedIn provide a space for people to network and provide insights about their experiences as employees for businesses. When people hear about a company with a great culture, they tend to be more interested in working there as well as exploring the products and services that they offer.

Improve the Customer Experience

Each member of your team plays a role in creating positive customer experiences that drive growth. Even if they never set foot in the corporate headquarters, customers can often pick up on a negative culture that causes employees to provide lackluster experiences. For instance, a customer may pick up on a negative tone when they reach out to customer service, or someone might receive less than perfect services from a disgruntled employee. When everyone is happy to be working for your company, the customers will notice and be excited to continue to use your company’s services.

When a company invests in developing a positive environment for the employees, the business thrives. Make sure to regularly check in with your employees and use their feedback to incorporate policies that inspire everyone to reach their highest potential.

Right Steps for Hiring the Right Person

Smart hiring practices are a foundation of any company’s wellbeing. Whether a company needs to hire its first employee or 51st, the process should be carefully measured by these essential factors.

   1.    Job Description.

The job description is a written announcement of specific experience and/or educational requirements, job responsibilities, and other qualifications as well as position performance expectations/standards that potential applicants must meet to perform the job well. Also, you can include a description of your business, as well as a mission and vision statement. Answer these questions:

  • Who would be an ideal candidate and what competency levels are needed to fill the position?
  • What kind of a personality is best suited for your company atmosphere?

The detailed job description attracts the right people for the job and enables the new employee to possess a good understanding of the expectations and how it will affect his or her performance evaluation. A well-written job description is also part of your company’s lawsuit-fighting arsenal.

 2.    Vacancy Announcement.

Our contemporary world has many ways to get the word out and find the right person – from the old fashioned to the very modern platforms. Newspaper ads – are a very passé way to find job candidates but there are individuals that go to the newspaper to look for jobs even though newspapers are trying to eliminate their “Help Wanted” sections; word of mouth is old fashioned, but can still work; online recruitment sites – such as ZipRecruiter, Indeed, Glassdoor, CareerBuilder, Monster, and many others are excellent places for eVacancy Announcements; Social Media – LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are equally good tools to help find the right job candidates.

3.    Filter Job Candidates.

Weeding out and screening candidate resumes are very time consuming but at the same time – very important. You need to eliminate anyone who doesn’t meet the requirements in terms of precise experience or/and educational necessities.

4.    Recognize Your Candidates.

This step requires looking into candidates’ work history.

  • Where has the person worked before, what kind of jobs and from what industries do the candidates come?
  • Does she or he have experiences applicable to your business?
  • What are their accomplishments in prior positions?
  • What is the duration of employment at other positions?
  • Is there a pattern of shifting jobs every few months?
  • If significant education is essential for the position – what is the candidate’s educational background?

Examine how the information in a resume is structured and if there are any inaccuracies or mistakes especially if you are looking for someone who will work at a higher level.

5.    The Initial Selection.

To make the hiring process for this position a bit easier, invite each candidate, whose resume looks good, for a five-minute phone interview. These few minutes will give you an opportunity to eliminate candidates who don’t have “must-have” skills for the job. Here are some phone interview questions to ask candidates:

  • Why are you leaving your present role?
  • What made you apply for this position?
  • What is significant to you from a job?
  • How would you illustrate your approach to work?

It’s important to ask the same questions of each candidate and take notations on their answers as it will allow you to note any red flags. A good tip is always listen to your intuition; if something doesn’t feel right about a candidate, it most likely isn’t.

6.    In-person Interviews.

After initial phone interviews you should have a short list of at least five potential candidates and organize the next level interview; have an in-person conversation with them that lasts about 30 minutes. For this step you need to develop a list of questions you will ask all candidates. Please keep in mind that some questions are illegal to ask, such as candidates’ religion, age, sexual orientation, disability, pregnancy, marital status or number of children.

Ask questions related to their previous professional experience and education (if it is applicable) and request that they review each of their previous jobs and describe their job responsibilities. You may also ask:

  • What one talent makes you the most skilled for this position?
  • What excites you most about this job?
  • What career accomplishments are you most proud of?
  • What were challenges in your career? How did you deal with the situation and what did you learn from it?

Also, ask each of them to say something about themselves that other people may be surprised to know about them. Additionally, ask about hobbies they may have; it’s always good to know. Moreover, it is important to permit the candidates to talk, to express themselves, and allow them to ask you any questions they may have. Don’t forget to take notes about the conversation and record your impressions.

7.    Verify Top-Pick Candidate’s Information.

After the hard work, you have identified the person you believe would be the best fit for the position. Now it’s time to do final checks before making a job offer. It’s crucial to perform a background check (education, employment, criminal records, and motor vehicle and license records), reference checks, and drug tests. Keep in mind that just because something is written down doesn’t automatically mean it’s true. For reference checks, call at least three references – a candidate’s direct supervisors – not friends. Please ask each of them if they would hire the candidate again. Don’t let your feelings drive the conclusion as some persons are better conversationalists than others and many people know how to sell themselves, which sometimes means overstating actual proficiency.

8.    Job Offer.

Before you call your finalist, put together a compensation package which should include the salary and benefits (health, insurance, retirement benefits and other perks you offer). You must mention what the entire benefit package costs the company as this gives the candidate the total cost that the company will be paying to hire her or him. Once you’ve made a conclusion and prepared the compensation package, call your top choice and make an offer. Giving the person a list of reasons why she or he was the top pick will make the person feel good about being selected for the position.

 

Please remember, that there is no perfect method for hiring great employees. However, practicing a thoughtful and careful hiring process for your small business will go a long way towards not hiring today – what could be next week’s problem. This way you will achieve your goals and grow your business. Good luck!

 

 

How AI Helps Small Businesses Compete on the Same Playing Field as Large Corporations

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) often sounds like the things that you see in a science fiction movie. However, you come into contact with technology that uses AI every day, and incorporating it into your business plan helps to level the playing field between your small company and larger corporations. As you explore new types of technology to use in your company’s daily processes, keep these benefits of AI in mind so that your small business achieves optimal growth.

Address Menial Tasks

Technological advances have made it possible for your team to use AI to eliminate those mundane tasks that detract from productivity. For instance, AI software can perform many of the same services as a personal assistant such as scheduling meetings or setting up customer appointments. With these tasks off of their to-do list, your employees can focus on other essential duties that are more important for meeting your company’s goals.

Give Customers an Instant Connection

Larger corporations often implement huge call centers to make sure that every customer receives immediate assistance whether they are buying a product or have a question about a purchase. For a small, sustainable business, large call centers may not be financially feasible. Once again, AI provides a solution to this problem since you can use software to immediately engage with your customers. Chatbots are a common form of this type of AI technology, and some of the latest software is so advanced that people are often not able to tell the difference between the chatbot and a conversation with an actual human.

Analyze Your Target Audience’s Behavior

Data is everything when it comes to analyzing what works for your business. While big corporations have teams made up of people who spend all day performing data analysis, you don’t have to work a bunch of new salaries into the budget. Instead, use AI to perform tasks such as tracking how visitors interact with your website or with your sales people over the phone. Being able to see things such as what web page a customer visits before they make a purchase allows you to streamline your marketing efforts.

Increase the Effectiveness of Marketing Campaigns

Social media is one of the hottest places to market your business. Yet, you may not be sure of where to start with making sure that the ideal customer sees your ads. AI software is available through many different social media platforms that uses information that you provide about your current customers to target ads to go to people who also fit those demographics. Being able to put your ad videos in front of the people that actually fit your target audience dramatically increases the effectiveness of every campaign.

Recruit Top Talent

Hiring procedures tend to involve a large amount of time and expenses when you want to hire only the top people in the industry. Now, you can cut your human resources departments work in half by using AI to screen candidates by running through their resumes and asking simple interview questions. AI can also help your business retain top talent by giving them access to information using chatbots in a way that is similar to the strategies used for customer service.

Sum it Up

AI doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, using it to streamline your company’s sales and marketing processes allows for greater growth potential. Try starting out simply by experimenting with software that automatically connects with your customers or that analyzes the current data to make predictions about future sales. Then, make it a point to stay up-to-date on the latest advances in AI technology so that you can continue to add them to your company’s plans.

How to Create a Pricing Strategy for New Businesses

The pricing strategy that you implement for your new business is one of the most critical components for its success, and establishing the right prices for the products and services that your company provides involves a delicate balance of several factors. Simply put, prices that are too high will deter people from working with your company, yet prices that are too low may undervalue the importance and quality of the products you provide. Now that you’ve poured your efforts into building a sustainable business, it is time to develop a strategy that ensures a successful launch.

Perform a Market Pricing Analysis

Your first step to develop a pricing strategy is to understand how your company fits into the current market. For instance, you may need to choose lower, more competitive prices if your business will be marketing to the same target audience as multiple other retailers. If your business provides a unique product or service that is not currently saturated in the market, then you can expect to set the prices higher.

Understand the Target Audience

As part of your marketing plan, you should already have a few buyer personas that give you a better idea of who will be purchasing your company’s products and services. Now, you will use those personas as well as information from your market research to figure out how prices are perceived by the people that you expect to frequent your business. For instance, products that are designed for families with young children may need to be more price sensitive compared to a business that offers luxury products or packages to people who prefer designer goods and are willing to pay the price for quality.

Research the Competition

While keeping the target audience in mind, you now need to consider what other companies have similar products and services. Ideally, you should be able to identify at least three of your main competitors as well as a few companies that provide indirect competition. Now, take a look at how they price their products. Do they sell value-added packages or offer steep discounts on certain items? If so, then you may need to provide similar types of options to remain competitive in the market. Alternatively, you could set your business apart from the competition by offering a completely different pricing strategy that taps into your target audience’s needs better.

Choose Pricing That Fits Your Goals

Effective pricing strategies should always meet the defined goals for your company. In most cases, your goal when you are first launching your business is to break into the market. For this type of situation, penetration pricing may be the answer since offering dramatically low prices in the beginning can attract customers to your company’s products. However, you still need to make sure that you do not set the prices so low that you turn customers away once you bring them back up. Promotional pricing helps to avoid this common dilemma since it sets the expectation from the beginning that artificially low prices are only temporary.

Overall

The right pricing strategy for your business should increase profits without being so high that it stops customers from trying your products. While you may need to set your prices lower in the beginning to stand out from the competition, you should also remember that pricing strategies should remain fluid. Be sure to check the pricing strategy as you launch new products or the market experiences a change so that you can always be sure that the prices set increase profitability for your company.

Why Your Business Should Go Paperless

As a business owner, you make executive decisions every day that are all carefully planned to help streamline operations and cut costs. Whether you are getting the best price on supplies from a vendor or analyzing your current staffing system, you know that every little bit counts for maximizing profits. Yet, overlooking the costs associated with using outdated paper-based communications and record keeping methods is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. During your next planning session, make sure to consider these benefits of having your business go paperless.

Provide Mobile Employees With Instant Access to Information

Today, most companies have employees actively working outside of the office, whether they are performing sales calls in the field or working from home. With paper documents, it’s virtually impossible to get information instantly, and having to wait on a file or finish a task hours later bogs down productivity. Digital collaboration tools make it easy for your mobile employees to update contracts, collect customer signatures and even manage billing services from any location.

Improve Data Security

Your customers will always be concerned about their privacy and how their information is handled. Too often, paper files are thrown out with the trash or left vulnerable to unauthorized people filing through the pages. With cloud-based document storage, you can choose programs that maintain high levels of security that only let the information be displayed to those with the credentials to gain access. Sensitive files can also be encrypted during their transfer to prevent data breaches.

Demonstrate Environmental Responsibility

Customers notice everything about your company, and paper waste is one issue that causes people to lose respect. There is no reason to fill your customers’ mailboxes with fliers and letters that only get thrown away and waste valuable energy. Using digital communication methods such as a social media tweet or an email are more likely to be noticed, and your brand will earn points for taking sustainability seriously.

Minimize Expenses

When you take a strong look at the bottom line, postage, filing systems and paper products all add up. Yet, you also need to consider the hidden costs that paper-based systems create. For instance, online billing saves you money over the long run that helps to increase profits by eliminating the costs of mailing out paper bills.

Improve Customer Communication

Customers today expect fast responses to their questions, and this can only be achieved by working with them directly in real time environments. While phone calls work, you can also reach out to your customers through email or online chats to establish a digital record of every interaction. This allows your employees to quickly see what has been done regarding each customer contact, and you can demonstrate commitment to customer satisfaction through prompt responses.

Eliminate the Clutter

Paper is a huge cause of clutter in office environments, and even organized filing systems take up large amounts of space that can be used for better purposes. Transferring paper documents to digital files allows you to free up room for your employees to work on tasks that increase the efficiency of your business.

New technology is constantly providing ways to increase the efficiency of your business by eliminating the burden of paper-based documents. From increasing security to enhancing communication with your customers, going paperless establishes your business as being committed to making positive changes that benefit everyone.

5 New Years Resolutions for Small Businesses

The New Year is an exciting time when change is in the air, and now is the time to take an honest look at how your company has performed over the past 12 months to determine what it needs to grow. While personal resolutions may get cast aside once the hype of the holiday season is over, the ones you set for your small business can be turned into actionable goals. As you reflect upon the past year, you can use these resolutions as inspiration to drive your company’s future growth.

Grow Your Team and Delegate

If you’ve been aiming for better work-life balance, then this resolution could serve double duty as a personal and business goal. Small business owners are known for wearing many hats, and it’s possible that your company has grown to the point that you desperately need help. Ask yourself what tasks might best be handled by someone else. The need to hire a receptionist or promote a current member of your team to management are all signs that your company is following an upward path.

Give Back to the Community

Charitable work and contributions don’t just make your company look good. They elevate the entire community so that everyone can enjoy your company’s products and services. Identify places in your community that your company could help. For instance, your home remodeling business could help build low-income housing. Alternatively, you could offer to speak to a high school group about the path to entrepreneurship. These types of experiences help to show your company in a positive light, and you’ll love how it feels to be fully involved in your community.

Update Your Online Presence

When was the last time that you really took a good look at your company website? Or, you may still be on the fence about setting up a social media profile. Try to remember that online interactions provide a great way to stir up interest about your company. Try making it a goal to post a social media update once a week, and be sure to highlight the work you are doing in the community. Then, have web analytics performed to determine how you could improve your company’s website search rankings.

Invest in New Technology

Putting money back into your business is essential for growth. While it often seems as though new technology springs forth before you have a chance to finish the old system’s installation, this is one area where most companies can benefit. Take a good look at how your employees perform their duties to identify places that could use some updating. For instance, you could use project management software to streamline communication between your employees and customers, or your office crew could need faster computers to increase their productivity.

Identify a New Target Market

When things are going well, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut and keep doing what works. However, it is possible that there is an entire market of people who have not yet heard about your company’s products and services. Whether you need to look into international trading or just need to consider marketing your company’s products to a different local demographic, opening up a new target audience keeps things exciting and drives growth.

As with any New Year’s resolution, the best way to make them stick is to take immediate action. Now that you’ve got yours in mind, be proactive and start working on a plan that makes each one part of your company’s focus this year.

4 Tips to Perfect Your Accounting Strategy

As a business owner, you either love crunching numbers, or you view accounting practices as a necessary task that must be done for tax compliance purposes. Whichever side of the ledger you fall on, the important thing to recognize is that there is always a way to improve your business accounting practices; and performing regular checks to see how your plan is working is essential as your company grows. Now that you have a basic accounting plan in place, use these four tips to perfect the system so that you gain a stronger understanding of your company’s financial health.

Upgrade Your Accounting System

As your business grows, there comes a point when it is time to drop bulky ledgers and filing systems and explore software that simplifies the accounting procedures. Today, you can find a wealth of different types of accounting programs that are designed specifically for small businesses. In addition to providing a place to keep records of every transaction, you can utilize this software to generate reports that give you a better look at the overall financial picture of your company.

Delegate Accounting Tasks

Entrepreneurs tend to prefer to be in control over their company’s books. However, an impartial eye is better at catching discrepancies and areas of concern than someone who is fully invested in the company. Once your business is off the ground, begin to develop a plan for having a professional manage the accounting. Whether you hire an in-house accountant or work with a firm is up to you, and both of these choices allows you to focus more on analyzing the reports rather than the mundane tasks involved with inputting numbers into an accounting system. As the accounting team grows, you can also delegate specific tasks to fit your staff’s strengths. For instance, having a person in charge of analyzing data and compiling reports allows you to walk into your next meeting with the sole focus of making executive decisions.

Increase Your Focus on Tracking Expenses

While it’s exciting to watch profits increase as your company grows, you must also make expense tracking more of a priority. Instead of tracking expenses over a longer period such as a quarter, try looking at what your company and employees spend on a daily or weekly basis. Not only will this allow you to find ways to trim unnecessary costs, but it will also help you plan a more strategic budget.

Synchronize Reporting and Accounting Schedules

Few things are more frustrating than sitting down to plan for the future of your company and realizing that the financial information that you need is not there. Make sure that the accounting team is aware of when you do your business’s financial assessments so that they can align the reporting schedules. Ideally, discrepancies should be handled in a timely manner before the reviews, and the books should all be properly closed and in order so that you have as perfect of a view of the current stats regarding the profits and losses as possible.

Perfectionism helps to grow your business, and there is no room to slack off where your company’s finances are concerned. Make it a goal to periodically analyze your business’s accounting practices so that you can make changes that reflect growth and success.

6 Ways International Trade Can Help Your Business Excel

The global market is easier than ever to tap into now that technology has made it possible to connect in real time with potential customers and business professionals in other parts of the world. Yet, small businesses often leave this important resource untapped with the false belief that international trade is only for large corporations. When you are ready to take serious steps toward expanding your business, consider these six ways that international trade can help your company reach its goals.

Tap Into An Open Market

Market saturation is a major problem in the U.S. that hinders growth, and small businesses are at an increased risk for failure if they fail to expand beyond their local area. Fortunately, there is an entire world just waiting to benefit from the products and services that your company has to offer. Expanding to an international market allows you to take advantage of having less competition so that you can continue to build.

Extend the Life of Your Products

Product development is costly and time-consuming, and businesses need to carefully consider the return on investment before adding new items to their line. In the U.S., trends and seasonal changes tend to cause the demand for products to fluctuate wildly, which makes it hard to recover the dollars spent on putting a new product on the market. International trade opens up ways to mitigate the potential damages associated with this volatility since the global marketplace is full of potential customers who may be interested in what your company has to offer at any point in the year.

Practice Better Risk Management

Relying upon a single market also places your company in jeopardy of failure during political or economic events that affect the U.S. Unfortunately, many companies have gone down during minor economic downturns that could have been handled had they been trading internationally. Expanding your company’s reach to other countries helps it stay afloat when the local market sinks.

Build a Stronger Reputation

A global mindset is revered in today’s society that recognizes the importance of diversity. Whether your small business showcases the work of artisans from around the world, or you open up a shop overseas, international trade shows potential new customers that your business focuses beyond the borders of its home country. Since international trading is viewed as a sign of a successfully expanding business, this strategy also lends you greater credibility with others within your industry.

Enjoy Greater Control Over Cash-Flow Management

Requiring payments upfront is a common practice in international trade, which is often hard to negotiate for in the U.S. Early payments allow your business to benefit from immediately having the funds available to initiate projects or to invest in new materials. You also see productivity increases when your company’s staff is not strapped with menial tasks such as contacting customers to collect on late payments.

Identify Innovative Ways to Expand

At some point, most businesses hit a wall, and stagnation is often the sign that something must be done before your company fails. International trade has a unique way of opening up everyone’s minds to new possibilities. As your company’s team learns more about the international market, ideas are spawned regarding new ways to specialize or add products that meet the new needs of the areas that your business serves.

At first glance, the prospect of opening your business to international trade may be overwhelming, especially if you’ve always viewed it as something reserved for larger companies. However, being willing to look at the bigger picture is one of the most critical traits for any small business, or startup, to survive. Whether you start out small by expanding your product offerings to one country or go all out with a major campaign, branching out to the global market puts your business in the right position to excel.

How Marketing Automation Can Aid Your Business

Marketing is the fuel that allows your company to grow and skyrocket to the top of the industry. Your business may provide the best services on the market, or you may have developed an innovative product that doesn’t exist anywhere else. However, none of this matters if your brand’s target audience is unaware of what is available. Marketing automation is a technology-based tool that incorporates different types of software that your company can use to streamline some of the most time-consuming and difficult tasks associated with spreading the word about your business. When you choose to automate your marketing tasks, you can expect to see these benefits that help to boost your company’s growth.

Open Up Room for Creativity

Your company’s marketing team should represent the best and brightest talent in their field, and they thrive on coming up with new ideas that help your business prosper. While they may be full of brilliant ideas, they are also limited by time constraints when they are forced to spend the majority of their day performing menial tasks such as calculating figures and compiling reports. Marketing automation software does these types of tasks so that your company’s marketing team has more time to focus on creative thinking. With the combination of human generated creative strategies and the accuracy of computer software, you’ve set up a win-win situation.

Gain More Control Over the Budget

Marketing campaigns take up a big portion of a company’s budget, and you should always be looking for strategies that give you the highest returns. With automation, you gain more control over how your company’s budget is spent since there is no longer a need to pay for labor to manage simple tasks, and money is not wasted on ineffective campaigns. Instead, you can focus on using the budget to hire the best talent or to purchase a larger advertisement to market the brand.

Retain More Customers

As every good marketer knows, it’s far less expensive to keep a customer coming back than it is to recruit new ones. For this reason, customer retention is a critical part of marketing campaigns. Marketing automation includes software that makes it possible to cross or upset products to current customers by making them aware of promotions that fit their past patterns of behavior. With computer-generated marketing intelligence, your team can act with the perfect timing to hone in on current customers’ needs.

Track the Effectiveness of Marketing Campaigns

Data analysis is a critical component of every marketing campaign because you need to know how effective each strategy is for bringing in new and returning customers to increase profits. Marketing automation software makes it possible to quickly identify how well each campaign works, and some of the best options that are available also allow you to see predictions regarding how well future campaigns are expected to perform. Being able to stop or start a campaign based upon solid data gives your business one more way to be certain that every move that is made is strategized to generate success.

In today’s business environment, the competition is fierce and you must take advantage of every tool at your disposal to leverage your company to a leadership position. Start now by developing a plan to utilize marketing automation to streamline your business processes while also spreading the word about your company’s products and services to a wider audience.

6 Important Questions to Ask When Purchasing An Existing Business

Although many people dream of opening a start up, purchasing an existing business holds many benefits. Whether you are looking to expand your current business by acquiring competitors or just want to dip your toes into entrepreneurship, buying a company that already has trained staff on the payroll and a customer following allows you to bypass some of the early headaches associated with a start up. However, you must still do your due diligence to make sure that your purchase helps you meet your goals as a business owner. As you begin to analyze a business opportunity, use these six questions to decide if a purchase is in your best interests.

Why Is the Business Up For Sell?

Business owners sell their companies for a variety of reasons, and knowing why the owner is selling gives you insight into the current state of operations as well as the future potential for profits. For instance, a business owner may just be ready to retire, which means that the company is likely doing well. However, a business owner that is selling so that they can start a different company in the same field may generate competition in the community that impacts your business.

How Is the Current Financial Standing?

Naturally, you want to know the gross revenue and net profits of the business for the past several years. However, you also need to look for documentation of these numbers. Be prepared to request documents such as the tax returns for the business that cover the last three years as well as income statements, balance sheets, and reports that break down profits according to specific areas such as the services that are offered.

Will the Products or Services Hold High Demand in the Future?

A business should always be viewed as a long-term investment, and you want to make sure that it is not being sold simply due to a lack of consumer interest. Spend some time thinking about the current nature of the business and whether or not it provides goods or services that will be in demand over the next five to ten years. If not, then think about how you might be able to change the company to make it more relevant.

Do Any Major Assets and Liabilities Accompany the Purchase?

Established businesses often come with assets that may include real estate, equipment, or established contracts with buyers. However, they also tend to come with liabilities that must be honored. Make sure that you understand exactly what comes with the company so that you are not faced with any surprises after the transfer of ownership.

How Does the Company Culture Look?

While you will naturally put your own spin on the company culture, it’s best to anticipate potential issues that could arise with the staff. Take a tour of the company and speak to a few of the key members of the staff to make sure that you fit in well with the current culture. Then, you can also talk to the business owner to find out if they anticipate the staff to stay or leave. While company transitions often involve a few members of the team leaving, it’s best to know that you are starting out with a dedicated staff.

What Strategies Are Needed to Grow the Business?

When a business is already up and running, you have the unique opportunity to immediately begin working toward stimulating growth. Take a look at the current business plan to identify areas that need work. For example, you may need to rev up the marketing efforts by updating the company’s online profile. Alternatively, you may have great ideas for new products to offer current customers.

The decision to buy an existing business gives you an opportunity to build upon features of the company that already work. While these questions should not be the only ones that you ask, they will all give you more insight into whether a business is the right venture to fit your goals.

5 of the Best Apps for Finance & Accounting

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The days of spending hours hunched over ledgers, crunching numbers are officially over for business owners since technology has introduced more effective ways to manage company finances. While large companies often require complicated accounting software programs, you can be happy to hear that most small businesses can improve their operations with some simple apps. These are five of the best apps for managing financing and accounting tasks for improving your company’s daily operations.

Freshbooks

This app is known for its ability to be seamlessly integrated into a company’s current financial operations, and you’ll love how easy it is to perform tasks such as setting up recurring invoices and subscriptions. You can also use this app to accept mobile payments using your smartphone or tablet, which works great if you are a freelancer or have a sales team that works directly with customers out in the field. The app also comes with an option for live support that helps you roll out this new strategy without experiencing major issues in your daily operations.

Wave

For very small businesses with nine or fewer employees, this app serves as a solution to a multitude of financial recordkeeping challenges. Using this app, you can manage customer invoices and payments while also paying your employees. The app also now offers the option of using their free, personal finance software so that you can manage all of your accounting tasks from a single app.

Quickbooks

Quickbooks makes even the most difficult accounting tasks simple, which is perfect when you need to get back to running the rest of your business. One of the biggest benefits of using this app is that multiple users can all view the same information. Use this app if you share accounting tasks with members of your staff or a partner, so that everyone is always on the same page. You’ll also love the ability to quickly generate reports such as profit and loss sheets that are viewable from a single dashboard that you can access on your mobile device.

Xero

Xero is designed to be one of the easiest apps to set up, and most business owners do require any specialized training to get it up and running. Once you input all of the necessary information, this app organizes it all into areas that make it easy to keep up with your company’s contacts and records regarding transactions. Xero also offers payroll processing and inventory tracking services so that you can do all of your essential accounting work in one place.

OnPay

Payroll can become increasingly complicated as your small business grows and adds new members to the team, and dealing with a missed paycheck or uncompensated hours is never good for company morale. With OnPay, you can handle all of your payroll processes including tax filings in one simple app. While other apps offer some degree of payroll services, you’ll love that this one has specialized features for managing common challenges such as managing compensation and health insurance benefits for your employees.

As you explore new apps, keep in mind that any new program you choose should be easy for your staff to use and simple to integrate into your current operations. Once you integrate a new app, be sure to train anyone who needs to use it and upgrade all of your electronics so that you can seamlessly manage your company’s financial and accounting tasks with a few touches of a button.

5 Franchise Marketing Mistakes to Avoid

marketing

Owning a franchise comes with the built-in benefit of being part of a larger company that has already established brand awareness in the marketplace. While you can take advantage of a franchiser’s large-scale marketing campaigns, you must also remember that you are responsible for your own success. Now that you’ve purchased a franchise, be sure to avoid these common marketing mistakes so that you can watch your new business grow at a local level.

Relying Too Heavily On the Parent Company’s Marketing Plan

One of the things that may have attracted you to the parent company is their well-planned marketing strategy that has established them as a leader in the industry. While having access to marketing materials and content that is already developed gives you a leg up for getting your franchise off and running, you must create a plan that works at the local level to make sure that your business goes the distance. Take a look at what the parent company already offers, and then use this information to help you figure out the gaps you need to fill in your local advertising strategies.

Using Inconsistent Marketing Materials

Your company brand has established components such as a logo, colors and motto that all help to generate a sense of reliability and trustworthiness that keeps customers coming back. While new franchisees need to develop their own marketing plan, you also want to avoid veering too far off course since this could inadvertently make your business seem to consumers as if it is unaffiliated with the parent company. Make sure that any materials that you develop such as brochures and signage all work seamlessly and fit into any guidelines that are associated with the marketing plan already in place by the franchiser.

Forgetting the Power of Location-Specific Marketing

Franchisers tend to target their marketing efforts to a widespread audience. While you can bet that your customers will visit the main company website and see advertisements in public places, you also want to make sure that your franchise stands out from local competitors. If your parent company allows it, increase your visibility online by joining local business directories and begin building a presence on social media. This way, your franchise will start to be one of the first things people see when they search online for your company’s products or services.

Ignoring Online Reviews

Parent companies often have people appointed to handle national or worldwide publicity matters. However, they rarely step in to manage minor issues that arise at the local level. Unfortunately, consumers tend to choose the company that has the highest ratings online, and even a single negative review pushes your franchise to the bottom of the list. Appoint someone in your company to respond to online comments from customers that pertain directly to your franchise. Remember that even a negative review can be turned into a positive one if you handle the situation in a way that demonstrates a genuine desire to serve the community.

Focusing On Only One Area of Marketing

When a strategy works, it is tempting to keep working on that angle. However, the best marketing plans cover all the bases. Once you find that a strategy is working, continue to look at how it works with every area of your marketing plan. From advertising promotions to making sure that the interior of your store represents the brand, continuing to refine your strategies helps your franchise grow.

Learning from the mistakes of other franchise owners that have come before you allows you to save time and money by implementing the lessons directly in your initial marketing plans. By understanding how to balance your marketing strategies with those of the parent company, you can ensure that your franchise is a success.

How to Adopt Big Business Strategies for Your Small Business

business

Right now, your business may be small, but that doesn’t mean that it has to stay that way. At some point, almost every big business started off with someone’s dream of dominating the market. Yet, many small businesses never quite make it off the ground simply because they fail to adjust to changing demands or get intimidated by the competition. As a small business owner, you must think big from the earliest days of starting your company, and these big business strategies are perfect for helping you reach your goals.

Practice Market Segmentation

With so many startups saturating the market, it’s likely that your business already faces stiff competition. Establishing dominance in a niche market is one of the most effective ways to stand out from the pack and draw in consumer interest that leads to rapid growth. Consider your current market and begin to break it down into smaller niches that could lead you to a more specific target audience. For instance, you could market your health food products to senior citizens or bodybuilders depending upon your brand and the level of interest you can develop within the niche.

Provide Exemplary Customer Experiences

One of the biggest advantages that you have as a small business is the opportunity to form close relationships with your customers, and successful big businesses never lose sight of this important practice. Reach out to your customers for feedback, and be willing to make aggressive changes if they are needed to fulfill your goal of delivering revolutionary products and services to the market.

Establish Checklists for Routine Procedures

Consistency is the key to providing high quality goods and services that establish reliability in the marketplace. While it is easy to be consistent when your business is made up of a single office and small staff, it becomes harder as your company expands. Start now by establishing checklists that walk your employees through each step of routine procedures so that they are always done the same way. You’ll achieve immediate benefits for increasing productivity, and it’ll make tasks such as on-boarding new employees and auditing new locations easier in the future.

Know Who You Are Dealing With

As your business grows, you will come across great companies and people who truly want to form beneficial relationships. Yet, there are also companies that have unethical business practices and no qualms about causing your company to fail. Before you sign a contract with a new vendor or agree to form a partnership with a major company, hire someone to research their corporate profile. From discovering past bankruptcies to current accusations of fraud, this one simple maneuver can save your business from a big mistake.

Make Smart Acquisitions

In the early stages of running a small business, acquisitions may seem to be something that only works for large corporations. However, a well-planned acquisition could be the leverage that your small business needs to rise to the next level. When executed properly, an acquisition provides small businesses with the opportunity to establish dominance within the market and expand into different territories. If your company is not quite ready to make acquisitions, then you can look into the benefits of forming partnerships with other companies that an be just as beneficial.

Growing a business requires the ability to think beyond the borders of your current strategies, and there will always be some element of risk involved with each decision that you make. When in doubt, always consult with your team of advisers so that you can move forward with your business decisions with confidence.

NJSBDC AT WILLIAM PATERSON UNIVERSITY

Dingman’s Dairy
Joseph Belasco
191 Pennsylvania Avenue
Paterson, NJ 07055
Tel: 973-881-8622
Website: www.dingmansdairy.biz

Ann Marie Belasco and son Anthony are the owners of Dingman’s Dairy in Paterson, NJ. The company currently employs 50 men and women in sales, office, customer service, warehouse, and delivery positions. The Dingman family opened the business in 1955, and sold it to the current owners in 2007. Since the purchase, Dingman’s Dairy has grown from 4 delivery trucks to 17, and sales have increased five-fold.

As its name might imply, Dingman’s Dairy is a distributor of ice cream, ice cream mix, frozen yogurt, frozen desserts, cones, toppings, syrups, inclusions, sprinkles, paper goods and other related products. Customers include ice cream parlors, yogurt shops, restaurants, catering facilities, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and convenience stores. Major and more notable customers include Bodegas, Dairy Queen, Met Life Stadium, Sesame Place, Miami Seaquarium, Great Adventure, Jones Beach (NY), Santa Cruz Boardwalk (CA), local carnivals, the New Jersey State Fair, and many special events in the tri-state area.

In 2016, the Belascos contacted the NJSBDC at William Paterson University for counseling on a variety of important business matters. Since 70 percent of Dingman’s business is generated from April through September, discussions revolved around ideas to generate more business during the October to March time frame. Brainstorming topics included: Company acquisitions; new product categories; expansion of business to the Long Island, NYC metropolitan and Manhattan areas; sales process improvement; social media advertising; online ordering; enhanced distribution strategies; and other ideas on the Belasco’s agenda. “The SBDC,” according to the owners, “has been a sounding board, strategy advisor and business counselor to us over the past year on a variety of matters important to our growth and stability of the business.”

With the Center’s help and advice, Dingman’s expects to grow the business 15 percent in 2018 by adding new product categories, expanding sales areas, new sales personnel, and better marketing strategies. They are also adding a marketing specialist and hiring other personnel. Of great importance is the fact that the Belascos recently purch-ased land adjacent to company headquarters. The company will be building a state-of-the art distribution center to further enhance customer services and bolster product and sales growth opportunities.

NJSBDC AT STOCKTON UNIVERSITY

Cardinal Bistro
Thomas & Michael Brennan
6525 Ventnor Avenue
Ventnor, NJ 08406
Tel: 609-541-4633
Website: www.cardinalbistro.com

As food critics have already pointed out, when you combine a father with thirty-plus years of experience in the hospitality industry with an award winning chef for a son, the result is Cardinal Bistro in Ventnor, “a promising new BYOB from a young talent that Shore goers are going to love.”

Thomas Brennan started his career as a busboy in Smithville. After earning his bachelor’s in Business Administration from what was then Stockton State College, he began a successful career that included managing restaurants, working in casino accounting departments, and working as the Director of Food and Beverage services. These positions allowed Tom to hone his skills in designing, planning and opening new restaurants, an endeavor he and son, Mike, decided to undertake together in 2015.

While at college in Philadelphia, Michael Brennan walked into Le Bec Fin and applied for a job, never imagining his need for employment would lead to a bourgeoning career as a chef. Determination and dedication enabled Mike to go from bussing tables to hosting at another legendary restaurant in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square, where Mike gained his food prep skills and knowledge. In 2012, Mike entered The Culinary Institute of America, where he trained alongside the best chef instructors in the country. Upon graduation, Michael helped open one, before moving on to another, of this booming food town’s busiest restaurants.

Meanwhile, Tom, after a short stint in retirement, decided to open one more restaurant. A phone call later, Mike was back in Philadelphia to help create the concept. Carla, Tom’s wife, found a little corner spot with great windows in Ventnor, NJ. With a location, chef and concept, they needed a name for the restaurant and found one honoring Tom’s late mother, who was a great lover of cardinal birds.

After meeting with Carol Waties, regional director of the NJSBDC at Stockton University, Tom and Mike emerged with a business plan that they submitted to M&T Bank. Working with Carol and M&T lender, Shannon Murphy, they obtained a loan and opened in the middle of the season to rave reviews and large crowds.

Not content to rest on good reviews, or his winning entry on Food Network’s “Cooks vs. Cons” show, Michael founded For Atlantic City By Atlantic City (4ACxAC), a group of hospitality professionals who want to see Atlantic City thrive. Part of Tom’s and Mike’s plans to grow the Cardinal Bistro brand include expanding its footprint, and enhancing the dining experience by incorporating food and spirits.

NJSBDC AT RUTGERS UNIVERSITY – NEW BRUNSWICK

Greycell Labs, Inc.
Dharmesh & Shweta Vachhani
190 Lincoln Highway, Suite 201
Edison, NJ 08820
Tel: 732-444-0123
Website: www.greylabs.com

Greycell Labs, Inc. was established in 2004. They are a leading IT firm that provides a variety of technology-based services and solutions including IT consulting, business and technology services, custom software design, development, testing, deployment, and integration support to fulfill the needs of local, regional and global corporations of any size.   Greycell offers a suite of software services to help their clients increase process efficiency; enhance workforce productivity; reduce operating costs; boost employee and customer satisfaction; and enable better and faster decisions.   

Greycell’s owners, Dharmesh and Shweta Vachhani, have been clients of the NJSBDC at Rutgers New Brunswick since 2014. They were initially counseled regarding government contracting and certification as SBE, MBE, WBE and 8A businesses. They have regularly participated in Center workshops, seminars and other programs to help their business grow and prosper. More recently, the Center helped the firm develop its social media outreach, engaged the Vachhanis in its Managing Growth Ventures and other experiential learning programs.   

The firm has grown exponentially in both their domestic sales as well as their expansion into global markets. The Vachhanis now have 50 employees and have doubled their sales over the last two years.  In fact, Greycell has been recognized as one of the fastest growing firms in the USA. They were also ranked as #139 among the fastest growing firms out of 500 in New Jersey. Greycell has recently established a development center in India, which will be the headquarters for their Mobile Apps and Cloud/Big Data services.  They are working on expanding the company’s presence in other countries as well.  

Mr. Vachhani sums up his experience and success in just a few words: “Everyone dreams. Ninety-nine percent do not start due to fear of failure. The rest change the world. It is truly wonderful to have resources like the SBDC to help accomplish your dreams.”

NJSBDC AT RARITAN VALLEY COMMUNITY COLLEGE

Great American Sealcoating
Tim Smeltz
81 Chimney Rock Road
Bridgewater, NJ 08807
Tel: 908-271-9797
Website: www.greatsealcoating.com

 

After 29 years of commuting into New York City and working long hours as a chef, Tim Smeltz was ready for a change. Inspiration came when he couldn’t find a local company to sealcoat his driveway. After investigating, Smeltz purchased an American Asphalt Sealcoating franchise in 2006.

Although new to self-employment, he knew he needed a business plan and contacted the NJSBDC at RVCC. Counselors Vicki Lynne Morgan and Karen Katcher helped him develop a business plan, and counselor Bob Bilarczyk helped with his certification as a NJ Small Business Enterprise (SBE).

Because sealcoating is a seasonal business, Smeltz quickly encountered a critical challenge: Retaining valued employees during the off-season. His solution? He bought a residential decorating business franchise, Christmas Décor, in 2007, to provide employment year-round. Since then he has successfully expanded his Christmas Décor’s Somerset County territory to include Hunterdon and Morris counties in New Jersey and Bucks County in Pennsylvania.

In 2009, another opportunity presented itself when a prospective sealcoating client who owned a daycare center specified that any sealcoating on his property must not contain coal tar, a suspected carcinogenic. Knowing this was a growing concern, Tim decided to break from his franchise and venture off on his own to find a better, safer product. It was a big decision, so he met with Regional Director Bill Harnden several times to discuss his options. During this period, he discovered a company using an innovative sealcoating mixture; bought exclusive rights to the product; and further developed it to meet his needs. With a new formula, solid infrastructure and seasoned employees, he was ready to create his new business–and the Great American Sealcoating Company was born. In 2017, Smeltz returned to the SBDC at RVCC to learn about financing options for expansion into New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania. As a result, he and Bill Harnden are meeting with several SBA lenders to develop a loan package.

With his innovative, problem-solving approach, and willingness to venture into new areas, coupled with the counseling services of the SBDC, Tim Smeltz has grown from a single, local operation with sales of $200,000 to a dual-business, multi-state enterprise with eleven employees and sales of over $1 million. Concerning the support he has received over the years from the SBDC at RVCC, Smeltz says, “It is exceptionally nice to have a resource that can help me grow and act as a sounding board when making important business decisions.”  With firm plans in place for improving, growing and innovating, Smeltz is paving the way for continued business success — and the SBDC at RVCC looks forward to assisting him in reaching his goals.

NJSBDC AT RAMAPO COLLEGE OF NEW JERSEY

Hafco Foundry and Machine, Inc.
Basil Fornaci & Billy Fornaci
301 Greenwood Avenue
Midland Park, NJ 07432
Tel: 201-447-0433
Website: www.hafcovac.com

Hafco Foundry and Machine, Inc. is a distributor of metal castings and machined parts to the rail industry, and manufacturer of industrial pneumatic vacuums and dust equipment for the coal mining industry. Founded in 1969, the company is managed today by co-presidents and brothers, Basil and Billy Fornaci, who are the third generation owners. Over its many years in business, Hafco experienced steady and consistent growth, achieving over $6 million in annual sales.

In September 2015, Basil’s and Billy’s father and Chief Executive Officer, Michael Fornaci, unexpectedly passed away. With no written succession agreement in place, Michael Fornaci’s widow became the default owner, and placed her trust in a law firm which cared only for her personal gain, and not the business or its employees. Having cast the brothers’ uncle and Chief Financial Officer, William Fornaci as an adversarial party, instead of the next rightful president, the company’s future was anything but certain. Suddenly, in March 2016, William passed away before any ownership rights were transferred.

Basil and Billy took control of day-to-day operations, while also reviewing a draft of an agreement, proposed by these same lawyers, written to cover the ownership and define the future operations of the company. It was at this point that Billy reached out to the NJSBDC.

Vince Vicari, regional director of the NJSBDC at Ramapo, assigned the Hafco case to Jim Palumbo, whose experience and knowledge has been a perfect fit for the company’s immediate needs. At the very first meeting, Jim pointed out some significant flaws with the agreement, which was then re-written based on his recommendations. Basil and Billy were quick to realize that you simply cannot only take business advice from lawyers and accountants. The SBDC also later connected Hafco with a law firm that would serve more as a neutral party, drafting the formal agreements and handling the transfer of ownership.

Advice from Jim, an experienced and skilled businessperson, turned out to be invaluable for Hafco. In fact, he truly saved the company from what could have been a disastrous agreement. Over the past year and a half, Jim Palumbo has helped to transform Basil and Billy from family business employees to confident and knowledgeable business owners. Beyond day-to-day operations, they’ve learned to create a business plan, generate yearly and quarterly budgets, and forecast the company’s sales. More importantly, they’ve realized the value of implementing all of these business tools and strategies.

Today, Jim and the SBDC at Ramapo continue to advise Hafco in areas such as human resources, distribution agreements, marketing plans, customer relations, inventory management, etc. Going forward, Basil and Billy will continue to implement these new skills and knowledge, and carry on Hafco’s legacy of success.

NJSBDC OF NORTHWEST JERSEY

Massage Heights of Morristown
David Shawger & Dale Carmody
40 West Park Place, Suite 7
Morristown, NJ 07960
Tel: 973-939-3999

Website: www.massageheights.com/locations/nj/morristown-nj

Dale Carmody and David Shawger contacted Northwest NJSBDC with an idea to start a business by combining their resources (dollars and know-how). The search began by identifying several franchise opportunities that would interest them and fit their business approach. They soon settled upon a day spa, and explored several franchise possibilities in detail before settling on Massage Heights as the optimal fit.

From the beginning, the business venture was unique in that it was entirely self-funded through personal and

“sweat” equity. The owners exude a lot of attention to details as is evidenced in every corner and crevice of their

facility. Their staff radiates a sense of professionalism and warmth rarely found in today’s business franchise model.

Northwest NJSBDC worked with the partners in the evaluation process (including site selection), reviewing documents, franchise agreements, property leases, and “partners’ agreement.” While most day spas are located in strip malls, Dave and Dale decided that an upscale downtown environment was more in harmony with their vision. It would attract the young professionals employed by Morristown firms and is consistent with the prestigious Massage Heights image. “We relied heavily on [Regional Director] Dolores Stammer’s expertise to guide us through the selection, launch and initial operations,” said Dale Carmody.

From the beginning of their relationship with Northwest NJSBDC, Dave and Dale have viewed Dolores Stammer as their strategic partner-advisor. “Whether the issue is related to marketing, human resources, finance or operations, we’ve come to rely on Northwest NJSBDC as a key resource,” said Dave.  During the Grand Opening, the partners introduced Northwest NJSBDC as the single consistent resource that guided them through multiple issues inherent in a major launch of this type.

While opening just this year, Massage Heights, Morristown already employs 15 individuals. The facility is a real showpiece for the Morristown Green properties and has adapted its marketing consistent with its upscale downtown image. The partners continue to view Northwest NJSBDC as their go-to partner in the continued success of their business. “Our sales are growing consistently month-by-month and we value the role that the SBDC has played in our success.” The owners are living testimony to the Massage Heights motto of being “simply better.”

NJSBDC AT NEW JERSEY CITY UNIVERSITY

Maria Mentiras Bar & Grill, LLC
Maria Gutierrez
328 32nd Street
Union City, NJ 07087
Tel: 201-966-9092
Website: www.mariamentirasbarandgrill.com

Maria Gutierrez arrived in New Jersey as a teen from Medelin, Colombia. She and her family were in search of opportunity and the American Dream. Her ambition and desire for success formed at age 17, when she opened her first clothing store. Sixteen-hour workdays and two-hour bus rides became a normal routine. Long days and expensive business lessons were met with even more drive and the discipline to continue moving forward.

In 2011, Ms. Gutierrez wanted to grow her clothing business and sought the assistance of the NJSBDC at New Jersey City University. Business consultant Ryan Silvestre advised Maria on her business structure, organizational skills, time management and financial arrangements. This extra insight into her entrepreneurial efforts led to conversations about expanding and possibly purchasing a new business. With help from the NJSBDC on valuation modeling and due diligence, a decision on building a new business was made. With proper planning, and a creative debt structure, Ms. Gutierrez was able to secure the capital needed to open Maria Mentiras Bar and Grill, LLC.  

Now one of Hudson County’s premier restaurants, Maria Mentiras, as the regulars endearingly call it, provides Latin fusion dishes, along with unique specialty cocktails and live music. A staple of Union City, New Jersey, Mentiras Bar & Grill draws a local crowd as well as patrons from many of the neighboring cities.

Since opening, Ms. Gutierrez has been able to create over 20 restaurant jobs, in addition to internship opportunities. Most recently, Ms. Gutierrez and the NJSBDC at NJCU have worked on a marketing and social media plan utilizing another SBDC client to assist her in its execution. NJSBDC at NJCU also assisted Maria Mentiras, LLC in upgrading from its paper method of bookkeeping to QuickBooks online. The results were greater efficiencies in time and cash flow management, which allowed her to capitalize on new business opportunities. Traditional approaches of bankability made it impossible for her to secure a commercial mortgage; however, with these interim financials, she was able to structure a private mortgage for the acquisition of two buildings for $1.2 million, and the purchase of the buildings housing her restaurant.  

In addition to the success of Maria Mentiras Bar & Grill, Ms. Gutierrez continues to grow her clothing store and multiple other businesses. Her newest venture is a gourmet fast food business with franchise potential. Salsa Arepa is scheduled to open later this year at the very exclusive Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus, following completion of a $250,000 construction project. This truly long-term client has collectively created over 40-plus jobs and facilitated over $2 million in capital infusion invested in her businesses. The NJSBDC at NJCU will continue to provide support and guidance as the Center assists her in developing strategic plans concerning business sustainability and expansion.

NJSBDC AT KEAN UNIVERSITY

unzun House, Inc.
Integrated Learning Center, Inc.
Dulce Ramos
Union, NJ 07083
Tel: 646-755-3364
Website: www.speakilc.com

Dulce Ramos is a serial entrepreneur, educator and immigrant currently residing in Union, New Jersey. Dulce’s experience emigrating from the Dominican Republic, combined with her passion for education, motivated her to open Integrated Learning Center (ILC), a company focused on providing language instruction for corporate clients since 1994.

Over the years, Dulce grew the ILC business to be very profitable, employing over a dozen people. However, as times change, the marketplace requires entrepreneurs to adapt, recreate, and often reinvent themselves. The SBDC at Kean University has been working with Dulce for several years to help her with an array of business issues in order to keep up with the dynamics of the marketplace. Since Dulce’s businesses are service-based, word of mouth and referrals proved to be a good source for generating new clients. Here again, Regional Director Dave Margulies worked with Dulce to perfect her “ask” and suggest places and events to attend for the most effective networking.

Most recently, Dulce started a new consulting business, Zunzun House, Inc., which assists entrepreneurs, not-for-profits, and growing companies in fulfilling their goals. This business seeks project work where Dulce needs to leverage relationships for introductions to potential clients.

Each of her businesses was built with the cornerstone of corporate and social good, which strengthens the community. Dulce ensures that she exceeds client expectations by providing unparalleled customer service, which leads to future projects, referrals and great references.

At the SBDC in Kean University, Dulce has found a welcoming and helping hand as she works to continue growing her businesses.  From the friendly greetings she receives from the Center support staff, to the support and guidance by the center director, Dulce offers nothing but praise and admiration: “David Margulies has been working with me for several years, providing coaching in the areas of management, client acquisition, business relationships, pricing, finance, . . . and even helping me secure a position as an adjunct instructor at Kean University’s Business School.  No doubt, the SBDC at Kean University provides a platform to vet my ideas, get answers and direction I wouldn’t have otherwise. I am so grateful!”

NJSBDC AT BROOKDALE COMMUNITY COLLEGE

Aikido Center of Manasquan
Tim Vazquez
56 Union Avenue
Manasquan, NJ 08736
Tel: 732-309-0822
Website: www.ACNJManasquan.com

 

Tim Vazquez is the owner and chief instructor of the Aikido Center of Manasquan. He is a retired police officer, self-defense instructor, and an NJ State licensed Security Instructor.

Tim became a client of the NJSBDC at Brookdale Community College after attending one of the center’s no-cost, high-impact Bootcamps. There was a lack of traffic to his facility (Dojo), and he needed assistance quickly. Tim did some research and found NJSBDC at Brookdale. On June 2, 2016 he took the Center’s “Social Media Bootcamp” course that took him to the next level in social marketing. He subsequently enrolled in two workshops, “Running a Successful Crowdfunding Campaign” and “Intro to Blogging,” increasing his proficiency with social media and website management.

Tim took the knowledge and skills he developed during the workshops and implemented a proactive strategy. Employing a disciplined, innovative, and consistent approach, Tim is reaping the benefits of applying all the techniques that he learned in the courses. He redesigned all his social networks and website to make them mobile compliant, and started an AdWords account with Google. He even started blogging! Did it work? A delighted Tim states “I can tell that all the steps I took resulted in new traffic to the Dojo.” Not to stop there, Tim started and launched an app that is available on Google and the Apple store –  “Aikido Manasquan”!

Tim has increased traffic and sales by more than 10 percent, which for his highly competitive industry and market is exceptional. The use of online advancements, social media, and updates to his website have enabled him to continue to grow his business even when the dojo is closed.

“Thank you NJSBDC for all your help and expertise! I HIGHLY recommended anyone to attend the courses, receive guidance and counseling offered by NJSBDC at Brookdale Community College and their affiliated location Ocean County College. Is it a lot of work for anyone to re-design his or her social media? Yes, it is, but you will succeed with the help from NJSBDC!”

NJSBDC | TECHNOLOGY COMMERCIALIZATION

Arable Labs, Inc.
Adam Wolf, Ph.D.
40 North Tulane Street
Princeton, NJ 08542
Website: www.arable.com

Arable is a data and analytics company reducing risk in the food and agriculture supply chain. Their flagship product, the Mark, is a low-cost, highly connected solar-powered sensor that continuously and precisely measures more than 40 different, relevant data types regarding plant, light and weather conditions. The data enable farmers and agribusinesses to better assess crop status, forecast growth, predict yields and improve decision-making.

Customers are able to better manage resources in real time and make decisions that enable them to increase revenue through better forecasts of harvest timing, yield, and postharvest outcomes. The Mark hardware was designed in collaboration with the designer of the GoPro camera and Nest learning thermostat.  

Company Founder Adam Wolf was a Princeton University post doctorate candidate when he participated in the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps Teams Program (I-Corps).  The purpose of the program is to identify National Science Foundation/NSF-funded researchers who will receive additional support, in the form of mentoring and funding, to accelerate innovation that can attract subsequent third-party funding. Through their participation in I-Corps, Adam and his team decided to pursue SBIR funding. Arable’s I-Corps mentor referred them to NJSBDC’s Technology Commercialization Consultant, Randy Harmon.

Randy reviewed, critiqued and made suggestions for strengthening Adam’s draft NSF SBIR Phase I proposal, which was submitted in June 2015. Adam received word in December 2015 that the $150,000 project had been approved for funding. He then applied for and received $20,000 through NSF’s Phase IB program, which is intended to provide supplemental funding between the completion of Phase I and Phase II.

Upon successfully completing the Phase I project, Arable submitted a Phase II SBIR proposal at the end of August 2016 NJSBDC Consultant, Randy Harmon, assisted the team in the preparation of the Phase II technology commercialization plan.

Arable was able to successfully leverage their Phase I and IB awards to raise $2.6 million in venture capital which closed in February 2017. Upon successful completion of a pre-award audit and administrative review, Arable received notice of a $750,000 NSF Phase II award in April. According to Dr. Wolf, the assistance provided by NJSBDC through Randy Harmon helped Arable win SBIR Phase I and Phase II grants and the validation provided by the Phase I award helped raise their equity financing.

An opportunity exists to apply for additional NSF funding after Phase II ends. The Arable Insights platform, supported by the Arable Mark, is already generating revenue. Customers include Driscoll’s, Treasury Wine Estates, and Valley Irrigation. The Arable vision is to help enhance a customer’s sound decisions-making, mitigating risk in food production systems.

NJSBDC | SUSTAINABILITY

Consolidated Packaging Group, LLC
Gary R. Kaufman
30 Bergen Turnpike
Ridgefield Park, NJ 07660
Tel: 201-440-4240
Website: www.conpackgroup.com

Founded in 2004, Consolidated Packaging Group, LLC manufactures flexible packaging solutions at its SQF Level 2 certified 117,000 square foot facility in Ridgefield Park. Led by Executive Vice-President Gary Kaufman, CPG offers rollstock products, stand up pouches, quad seal pouches, laser scoring, pre-zippered films, bag tops, zip lock poly bags, and more. The company also provides laminated rollstock of film structures; and high barrier films, puncture resistant films, self-venting microwavable films, and films for frozen food applications. In addition, it offers pre-press, HD color printing, lamination, and slitting services. The company serves customers in industries or markets relating to food, frozen foods and vegetables, processed and fresh meats, consumer products, personal care, tissue overwrap, sanitary products, lawn and garden, household chemicals, mulch and soils, pet foods and treats, cat litter, and medical packaging.

CPG and its 125 employees are committed to creating packaging that minimizes environmental impact. During the manufacturing process, Gary strives for maximum conservation of raw materials and minimization of related waste, production processes, and energy consumption. Wishing to expand his business as well as his distinction as a leader in sustainable practices, Gary has met with NJSBDC at Ramapo College Regional Director Vince Vicari to discuss plans to increase CPG’s marketing and branding.   

To minimize waste, CPG performs packaging audits to reduce the amount of materials used without compro-

mising on the package’s durability, performance, and appearance. CPG also resells or reprocesses a majority of the polyethylene trim materials that are a by-product of the manufacturing process. In addition, they recycle many commonly used materials, such as cores, pallets, scrap metal, and all corrugated paper products. Gary estimates the annual number of pounds saved at over 280,000 – in addition to reductions in the cost of packaging, transportation, and energy consumed in the manufacturing process.

Dollar savings can also be found in CPG’s lamination division, where it has replaced all solvent-based adhesives with more environmentally-friendly technologies. Similar efficiencies also extend to re-cycling and reclaiming solvents in their Flexographic printing process, resulting in a savings of $225,000 per year.

To reduce energy usage even further, CPG replaced high intensity discharge lights with more efficient fluorescent and LED lighting; installed controls that turn lights on only when rooms are occupied; adjusted specific compressed air settings to lower the consumption of electric-drive power; installed variable speed drives on oxidizers to reduce the volume of natural gas required for incineration; and, installed a recovery system to capture waste heat.

NJSBDC | PROCUREMENT

KDW Partners
Eric Kainer & Rasul Damji
865 Ridge Road
Princeton, NJ 08852
Tel: 908-741-4314
Website: www.kdwpartners.com

For the past year, NJSBDC Procurement Consultant, Andy Bennett, has been working with KDW Partners located in Princeton, New Jersey.  The firm, owned by technology-savvy finance and marketing professional, Eric Kainer, and growth and transformation executive Rasul Damji, features Ambedded Technology advanced storage systems and Modulan cabinets and containment systems for large data centers and smaller computer rooms.  

Upon Andy’s recommendations, KDW added the technology leading, American-made LED lights from Pennsylvania-based Independence LED Lighting. Independence LED Lighting offers the highest quality, longest-lasting, highest efficiency lights in the world. As a result of adding Independence LED Lighting to their product line, KDW has seen exploding demand, both within its data center target market, and beyond. Demand for LED lighting has emerged from the Federal government, local government, commercial businesses, and even retail environments.

In April, SBDC Procurement Specialist Andy Bennett also introduced the firm to a New Jersey-based steel-manufacturing partner that is currently producing prototypes for KDW. In the same month he introduced another NJSBDC client, The Maximum Group LLC, which is working with KDW in business promotion and marketing.

To date, Andy has assisted the firm with over $1 million in negotiation support with Tier-1 construction companies in both Pennsylvania and Colorado. These negotiations were for KDW’s modular data center cabinets and containment. Andy also worked with the firm on a proposal for LED lighting systems for municipalities in Northern New Jersey with applications spanning libraries, schools, municipal buildings, and public housing.

In August 2017, Andy assisted KDW with negotiating and landing a $900,000 commercial contract with a Colorado-based construction company for LED lighting and CPU metal cabinets. And in November, one of the northern New Jersey municipalities (noted above) awarded KDW a contract for LED lighting that resulted from RFP research and review that Andy provided to the company’s business owner, Eric Kainer.

NJSBDC’s Procurement Specialty Program, through Andy Bennett, also introduced the firm to two contacts at Rutgers University’s purchasing department, and continues to work with KDW in business development, marketing, and contract negotiations support.

NJSBDC’s support of KDW and their perseverance has resulted in great outcomes!

THE AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE

The Malachia Brantley Entrepreneurial Spirit Award
Nathaniel Sims, Small Business Management Consultant & Advisor

 

America’s SBDC New Jersey recognizes Nathaniel Sims for his solid, strong track record in supporting small business ownership and entrepreneurship in New Jersey.

The New Jersey Small Business Development Centers (NJSBDC) network lost one of its greatest contributors in assisting small business owners and entrepreneurs with the passing of Senior Business Advisor and Management Consultant Nathaniel (“Nat”) Sims this past May 2017.

Today, on behalf of America’s SBDC New Jersey, we provide this Excellence Award posthumously in remembrance of his strong dedication to assisting small business owners, veterans, and entrepreneurs in pursuit of their small business dreams.

He contributed greatly to our small business assistance program and provided guidance to countless numbers of entrepreneurs and small business owners in his various capacities over the years as Assistant Director and Director of the NJSBDC at Kean University and subsequently as Senior Consultant, specializing in veterans’ assistance, for NJSBDC Headquarters and the entire network. He helped hundreds of veterans either to start a business or expand their existing business.

Nat was a compassionate and caring person and a man of integrity. His business acumen and skills imparted great knowledge for clients of the NJSBDC program. He helped many small business clients along the road to success. He will be forever missed as one of our most giving Team members.

Through a lifetime of selfless service and dedication to the New Jersey small business community, his positive attitude and passion to help others made a difference and contributed greatly to the successful outcomes of many small businesses in our state.

Mr. Sims was posthumously awarded the Veteran Owned Small Business, Mentor of the Year Award for his tireless efforts and dedication for Veteran small business owners by The American Legion on June 8th, 2017.   

He sets an example for all of us to further bolster the mission of entrepreneurship and small business ownership.

America’s SBDC New Jersey Sponsors Women Warriors in Business

Joined by Expert Panelists and News12 New Jersey Executive Producer

America’s SBDC New Jersey was joined by event primary sponsors of “Women Warriors in Business,” including M&T Bank and Prudential Financial. Partners who also engaged included the U.S. Small Business Administration, The American Legion, PSE&G and The State of New Jersey’s Business Action Center, a key state funding partner of the NJSBDC network.

Ivy Charmatz, an Emmy Award-winning executive producer for news and special projects at News12 New Jersey, was the featured speaker for America’s SBDC New Jersey Women Warriors in Business program. This high-impact women entrepreneur and leadership symposium and luncheon held on May 11, 2017 at 8:00 am until 2:00 pm, took place at Rutgers Business School in Newark, NJ.

Chamatz is a graduate of Rutgers University and stated that the event offered “an opportunity for women to come together and realize that although our paths may be different, our journeys are similar.” She stated that she enjoyed “spending the morning with so many accomplished professionals to share some of their insight and inspiration.”

The “Women Warriors in Business” program helped women explore leadership challenges and opportunities in business and careers, identify competitive advantages, help with personal and organizational branding, access lenders for financing, and utilize procurement certifications that are necessary when it comes to competing for public/private contracts.

Joining Charmatz at the gathering were Stephanie D. Burroughs, senior procurement consultant for NJSBDC’s Specialty Procurement Program, Tendai Ndoro, Ph.D., regional director of the NJSBDC at Rutgers-Newark, Kate Muldoon, regional director of the NJSBDC at William Paterson University, Pasqualina DeBoer, assistant regional director of the NJSBDC at Brookdale Community College, Stacy Smollin Schwartz, marketing professor, Rutgers Business School, Dominick Belfiore, small business and entrepreneur specialist at the U.S. Small Business Administration, Don Newman, director of small business advocacy at The State of New Jersey’s Business Action Center and representatives from the private sector including Michele Litzky, president of Litzky Public Relations, Cheryl McCants, president and chief executive officer of Impact Consulting Enterprises, Beverly Winkler, director of organizational engagement, learning and development at PSE&G, Dawn Fitch-Mitchell, director of diversity at DDB Worldwide, Maureen Fairfax, vice president of strategic sourcing at Prudential Financial, Lindsey C. Holmes, chief executive officer and lead strategist of Usable Tech and Andaiye Taylor, founder and editor of BrickCityLive.com.

The event attracted more than 75 women from different business careers and paths and highlighted women in the military, veterans and military dependents. Shy Hopkins, NJSBDC’s network Headquarters marketing program coordinator helped organize and plan the event, with Eugene Spillane of the U.S. SBA and Bob Looby of The American Legion. NJTV provided coverage.

Annual America’s SBDC Conference and General Meeting Held in Tennessee

The 37th Annual America’s SBDC Conference was held September 4-8 in Nashville, Tennessee, at the Gaylord Opryland Resort. The theme of this year’s conference was “Work Smarter. Live Better.”

Every year the national conference attracts 1,300-plus SBDC professionals from all over the nation. SBDC business advisors, trainers, directors and executives came together for professional development and networking.

SBDC experts and staff attended the 140-plus workshops that overflowed into the hallways, and in the exhibit hall where they eagerly engaged with each other, sharing best practices and experiences at their individual SBDC state networks. SBDC professionals also had the opportunity to engage with tradeshow exhibitors, learning about the latest information on products and services that can ensure the success of SBDC small business clients.

At the Conference, the national association held its General Meeting of State Directors/CEOs and Associate State Directors/COOs to discuss the national strategic plan and how to face the challenges of running statewide programs, including growth initiatives and attracting financial investments.

“The exchange of ideas is always very helpful,” said Brenda B. Hopper, chief executive officer and state director of the NJSBDC network.

“Raising questions on important issues and gaining insights from other SBDC leaders across the nation is always a good learning experience,” stated Deborah Smarth, chief operating officer and associate state director of America’s SBDC New Jersey (NJSBDC).

At the Conference, Dolores Stammer, regional director at NJSBDC of Northwest Jersey (Morris, Sussex and Warren counties) made a presentation on the Business Growth Accelerator Program (B-GAP) that she has pioneered at her Center, and which is being replicated by other centers in the statewide network. The initiative is aimed at high-impact small businesses with sales of $1 million or more and/or 10-plus employees. In addition, Vincent Vicari, regional director of the NJSBDC at Ramapo College of New Jersey (Bergen County), was recognized as NJSBDC network’s “State Star” along with other award winners throughout the national America’s SBDC network.

Smart Small Business Strategies for Surviving the Economic Slump

Survival strategies that small businesses need to manage an economic slump differ from those that large companies can put in place because small businesses have limited resources in terms of human capital, money, and time. Large companies usually focus on macro-level strategic actions such as economic indicator trends and downturns. Small business strategic choices should focus on micro-level indicators that take into account small low-cost incremental strategic actions guaranteed to yield high results, impact and return on investments.

There are five strategy categories or perspectives from which a business can choose to develop their strategic actions: Management oriented strategies; Resources oriented strategies; Knowledge oriented strategies; Business Operational/Internal Systems oriented strategies; or External Environmental oriented strategies. Small businesses need to be aware of their strategic choice orientation in order to be clear about the intentions and significance of your strategic action objective, impact and outcomes or results. Focus on implementing integrated, low touch solutions. Below are some of the micro strategies to take into consideration:

1 Revenue/Cash Inflow Strategies i.e. focus on cash flow statement as an indicator for what’s currently happening to the company’s cash inflow. This allows the business to primarily focus on strategies that are cash inflow oriented because this is what’s likely to keep them in business during the course of the economic slump.

2 Revenue Diversification Strategies i.e. focused on revenue generation strategies, not revenue reallocation strategies. Revenue retrenchment works to a point, but it’s not the only way for small businesses to save their companies in an economic slump. Cutting cost is a “maintenance” strategy – a measure for recycling the same money already in the business so that you can direct it to priority areas or appropriate budgets so that you can stay in business.

3 Market/Service/Product Mix Objectives: Reassess the business objectives (maybe goals) – that would help the business adjust to the prevailing economic conditions. An example would be focusing on Market/services or product MIX strategies. There are many alternatives a business can pursue in this strategy such as:
a) Old services/products to new market;
b) New services/products to old market;
c) New services/products to new market base.

4 Strategic Alignment: Because of their small size, small businesses/companies are quick to shift and have the ability to respond to external changes like an economic slump. This is an advantage. Therefore it is very important to align the business structures, processes, performance measures and/or incentives with internal changes as well as external economic forces.

5 Structures: Internal & External Business structures: Focus on the internal and external operating structures and how they impede or enhance efficiency and effectiveness; how can the business structure be modified to align with ongoing changes without necessarily “compromising” the core business model.

6 Processes: Focus on costly processes in place that increase your cost of doing business; modify and streamline to reduce expenses. For example, what aspects of the doing business processes can be outsourced rather than be maintained in-house? Eliminate “bureaucratic” or “red tape” business processes i.e., technology mediocrity to non-value adding operational routines.

7 Performance Measurement: Measuring performance is huge in eliminating redundant processes. Focus on time management, employee rate of productivity and efficiency, and the impact of business processes and procedures. Performance analytic information should always inform decision making.

8 Human Capital Incentives: Negotiate with your employees for incentives like flex-time if you cannot afford financial compensation; focus on greater role clarification; review employee resumes to identify former training, skills and experiences you can leverage and cross training of employees. Negotiate with suppliers and clients. Communication is key in human capital management.

Dr. Tendai Ndoro is the Director of the NJSBDC at Rutgers University-Newark campus.

NJSBDC Network’s Sustainability Program Helps Small Businesses Identify Ways to Reduce Business Costs While Instituting Environmentally-Friendly Practices

The U.S. EPA’s grant to the NJSBDC network has allowed the network to establish and continue the Green Sustainability Specialty Program into 2017. The specialty program provides information and technical assistance for small business owners concerning how they can realize savings and bring down business costs by instituting sustainable, “green” practices into their business operations (i.e. energy conservation, waste reduction, pollution prevention, streamlined procurement and risk management). When they implement a certain threshold of sustainable practices (at least five), they become part of the NJ Sustainability Business Registry which can be accessed through NJSBDC’s website. These small businesses are enabled to market their businesses with the “Sustainable Business” seal.  The NJSBDC team through this federal grant, and with the collaboration of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, provides one-on-one counseling and prepares specialized audits (on request) making recommendations customized to the particular small business inquiring about sustainable practices. The NJSBDC Team will also provide informative seminars at events sponsored by business groups or initiated and sponsored by the Sustainability NJSBDC Team for NJSBDC’s current clients across the state. For more information about sustainability learning opportunities, send a message to sbdcinfo@njsbdc.com.