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.

BANK OF AMERICA (BOA) PLEDGES SUPPORT FOR 2017

Over the past few years, Bank of America has partnered with America’s SBDC New Jersey, providing a high level of financial resources so that the NJSBDC network can continue to work with entrepreneurs and small business owners in targeted high unemployment areas across the state.

The BOA-NJSBDC collaboration focuses on providing various forms of technical assistance concerning building and repairing credit to appropriately overcome financial constraints and barriers for small, minority and women business owners. In addition, other assistance for marketing, business planning, and accounting skills has also been provided so that business owners are well equipped to meet the challenges of running a business.

Several centers of the network have been providing counseling and training under this partnership for such individuals wanting to start businesses as well as those existing businesses that want to further develop.

“We are grateful to the Bank of America for their financial support,” said Brenda B. Hopper. “ This kind of support allows us to provide small business resources in areas that confront greater economic barriers. We’ve been able to reach hundreds and hundreds of clients and our services have made a difference as a result of BOA’s generous support.”

Technology Commercialization Assistance and Support Offered to Science-Technology Companies/Entrepreneurs through America’s SBDC New Jersey

America’s SBDC New Jersey Technology Commercialization Program sponsored a September 30th SBIR/STTR training seminar (8:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.) followed by one-to-one appointments at the NJ Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) North Brunswick facility. PSE&G provided support for this event and follow-on with SBDC science-technology clients and trainees. In addition, a key sponsor of these annual sessions is Eisner Amper, accountant advisors. Other sponsoring organizations included BioNJ and the Rutgers Office of New Ventures and Entrepreneurship as well as supporting organizations including Innovation NJ, the NJ Technology Council, and NJIT Enterprise Development Center.

Randy Harmon, the New Jersey Small Business Development Centers network Technology Commercialization Program Consultant, invited The National Cancer Institute, The Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Smart Health and Biomedical Technologies Program to participate at this seminar.

The services of NJSBDC’s program focuses on providing guidance and assistance in pursuing Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Transfer of Technology (STTR) grants; the program’s consultant coaches and provides assistance in the proposal preparation process and also specialized reviews and critiques of draft proposals with specific suggestions as to how to strengthen in order to be competitive in winning such grant awards. These latter services aim at Phase I and Phase II commercialization plans, which can be particularly challenging for many applicants. Assistance can be provided by sending an email message to rgharmon@njsbdc.com; call NJSBDC’s Headquarters Office located at Rutgers Business School, (973) 353-1927.

NJ State Budget for fiscal year 2016-2017 includes an increase for the New Jersey Small Business Development Centers

Legislature Introduces and Passes Budget with Increase for America’s SBDC New Jersey

On June 30 the Governor signed into law (P.L. 2016, Chapter 10) a state budget for fiscal year 2016-2017 which includes a restored increase for the New Jersey Small Business Development Centers program.

The Governor in his winter proposed budget would have allocated $250,000 for the NJSBDC, but, the Legislature increased that allocation to $500,000, which was the level of funding in the prior year’s budget for this program. The funds are leveraged with Small Business Administration (SBA) funding appropriated by Congress for America’s SBDC national network program. The funds are returned to the states’ SBDC networks on the basis of population and the ability to match federal funding with other financial resources, including state, non-federal grants, and private sector contributions.

“We are grateful to the Legislature for their continued support of this small business resource program,” said Brenda B. Hopper, NJSBDC network’s chief executive officer and state director. “They understand that the assistance we provide to entrepreneurs and small business owners translates into business retention, expansion and jobs.”

“The Legislature has been fully supportive of this jobs producing program year after year,” said Deborah Smarth, NJSBDC network’s chief operating officer and associate state director. “We’ve gone through some challenges over the past 12 years, but, we believe our crusade for proper investment in small business assistance resources is the right approach.”

Smarth, the organization’s chief advocate at the State House, indicates that New Jersey’s investment pales compared to other states’ investment in their statewide SBDCs. “According to a recent, past national network association survey, the average state investment stands at $1.1 million. In reviewing the history of the program’s state funding, Smarth points out that the Legislature has led the way from the beginning, having worked with the program to increase funding from $500,000 to $1 million several years ago. But, during the Corzine administration, there was a reduction from $1 million to $500,000, than a freeze to $250,000. When Governor Christie took office, his first budget proposed no funding, but, the Legislature restored state funding to $250,000 where it remained stable during the first term and into the second term of the Christie administration until the Legislature increased funding in fiscal year 2015-2016 to $500,000. This year’s fiscal budget (2016-2017) was enacted with the $500,000 allocation, the same as last year.

The Governor subsequently issued an executive order (following his signing of this year’s budget on June 30); the executive order led to certain legislative budget add-ons being put in reserve until the Legislature agrees to healthcare reform savings; more than $100 million in municipal transitional aid and various other programs, including certain non-profits, were also placed on this reserve list. The SBDC program was added to the reserve list despite the fact that the total $500,000 allocation for SBDC does not increase the state budget since it is drawn from the
line appropriation for the State Department division charged with business development, attraction, and economic growth. Half of the SBDC program allocation was being held in reserve, but, on October 12th those funds were released.

“That was good news,” said Smarth. “In this economy which has not recovered, small business resources are significantly important. Investment in small business technical assistance actually produces impact in terms of job retention and job creation, notwithstanding business retention, business creation and expansion.”

The entire network and the thousands of small business owners served under the program are grateful for the leadership of Assembly and Senate Budget Committee chairmen in the respective legislative chambers, Senator Paul A. Sarlo and Assemblyman Gary Schaer as well as the ranking minority budget officers, Senator Anthony R. Bucco and Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon. Other supporters included: Assemblymen Robert Clifton, Ronald Dancer, David Rible, Assemblymen David Russo, David Wolfe and Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi; Assemblymen Craig Coughlin, Tim Eustace, Jerry Green, Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, Assemblywomen Valerie Vanieri Huttle and Pamela Lampitt, Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter and Assemblyman John Wisniewski. Members of the Assembly Budget Committee included: Assemblymen Anthony Bucco, John Burzichelli, Gordon Johnson, John DiMaio, John McKeon, Troy Singleton, Benjie Wimberly, Assemblywomen Elizabeth Maher Muoio and Eliana Pintor Marin. Senate Budget Committee members supporting the effort included: Senators Sandra Cunningham, Linda Greenstein, Kevin O’Toole, Steve Oroho, Nellie Pou, Brian Stack, and Sam Thompson; in addition, Senators Diane Allen, Christopher (“Kip”) Bateman, Michael Doherty, Robert Gordon, Ronald Rice, and Shirley Turner; Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. and Senate President Stephen Sweeney have supported the program over the years. Several additional legislators also joined this year’s efforts.

The SBDC Program Has Been Lauded For Its Cost-Effectiveness and for Its Metrics-Driven Approach

A recent, past Government Accountability Office (GAO) study of 52 economic development/entrepreneurial programs gave high marks to the national SBDC program. The GAO commended the national SBDC program, specifically noting SBDC’s best practices including impact metrics, accreditation practices, annual programmatic/financial audits, comprehensive local/regional/state/federal collaborations and program effectiveness.

Over the years, hundreds of millions of dollars have been paid by New Jersey to mid-size and larger companies to attract new jobs or retain existing jobs in the state through state business incentive grants and/or tax incentive programs. But oftentimes small businesses, the backbone of the economy, have been left behind. The costs of state grant and tax incentives to mid-and-large size companies are very high. A newspaper account estimates that jobs under the state business grant incentive programs since 1996 cost on average $22,044 per job.

By investing in assistance for entrepreneurs and existing small businesses through NJSBDC, the costs of creating and saving jobs in New Jersey are much lower. Maintaining and enhancing our small business sector in communities across the state provides sustainability and economic growth, generating jobs for the state’s residents. That’s why the Legislature and Executive Branch should continue to increase state funding for assistance to small businesses and entrepreneurs through America’s SBDC New Jersey. Independent studies prepared on an annual basis document the lower costs associated with creating and saving jobs for clients of the NJSBDC program.

Asbury Park Press,  May 6, 2013.

DEB’S COLUMN: SMALL BUSINESS VOICE-NJSBDC | WINTER/SPRING 2017

COLUMN: LET EMPLOYEES BAND TOGETHER TO ESTABLISH NEW BUSINESSES, CREATING AND SAVING JOBS; INVEST MORE IN TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE

The big topic these days in national news with a new presidential administration is bringing back jobs to America. Despite the administration’s diverse proposals, it’s even more simplistic!

Employees, who are being displaced due to their employer’s decisions to relocate, can do more than just wait for governmental solutions. They can take their knowledge and know-how in the industry in which they have worked for years, join together, and establish their own business in the field. They can do so with the help of the national America’s Small Business Development Centers program (America’s SBDC).

Each state has a network of SBDCs totally focused on helping established small businesses reach their next level of growth as well as assisting those individuals who want to start a business. Having workers band together to establish their own cooperative business will ensure that the jobs that would have been lost due to their employer’s closing its doors, will be saved due to their own efforts with the help of professional consultants and business advisors at SBDC. America’s SBDC New Jersey has a few great success stories based on such a model. This is the way for job creation, new businesses, and business retention in New Jersey. Why not promote that model?

According to information cited on the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s website, the way a firm organizes can very well affect innovation and creativity among its workers. According to the 2015 Kauffman blog, “Employee-owned firms are theorized to have more productive workers and less turnover than firms with traditional ownership structures.” The foundation of an employee-owned firm focuses on allowing employees to drive and navigate the firm’s mission and vision; employees hold the stocks of the enterprise and elect some of the company’s board members. The employees’ compensation is appropriately shared and works as an incentive for greater productivity and innovation at the firm. Small business and entrepreneurship is front and center! And, employee-owned small businesses are a means to save and catalyze new jobs and strengthen the middle class.

According to the most recent 2017 Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council’s “Small Business Policy Index,” New Jersey ranked 49th among the states in small business-friendly public policies. It’s time to change that ranking through innovative thinking and greater state investment in NJSBDC, part of a national network of SBDCs throughout the country. There’s no reason why New Jersey’s SBDC investment should lag the average state investment nationally. Why not invest properly in such a program with such a strong track record? The Legislature understands and has taken action. The executive branch should be just as supportive.

DEB’S COLUMN: SMALL BUSINESSVOICE-NJSBDC | FALL/WINTER 2016

COLUMN: The Economy: What Next?

The biggest question since the 2008 Great Recession is “Where’s the recovery?”

On the presidential campaign trail, economic issues have the highest scored interest followed by national security/foreign policy. So, let’s take a look at the #1 issue: the economy and jobs.

According to the latest economic indicator statistics, New Jersey’s unemployment rate peaked upwards to 5.3 percent in August for the sixth consecutive month. In February, it was at a post-recession low of 4.3 percent. New Jersey’s unemployment rate now exceeds the U.S. unemployment rate at its August level.

The Federal Reserve Chair, Janet Yellen, in her remarks at the Jackson Hole monetary policy conference, seemed to suggest that interest rates will be raised by the end of 2016. “The historically low Federal funds rate, the central bank’s still-large balance sheet, and the U.S. economy’s failure to fully recover from the last crisis all potentially dent the firepower of conventional monetary policy tools should a recession hit the U.S. economy in the coming years.”1 Some economists say we are headed for another recession. The fact is that after eight years of creating money out of thin air via quantitative easing and very low interest rates with the intent of spurring the economy, the national economy has shown little growth. According to an August 26th press release issued by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, real gross domestic product increased at an annual rate of approximately one percent (as of the second quarter).

Income growth for the vast majority is a concern. People, particularly the middle class and poor, are hurting. According to a Pew Research Center’s May 2016 analysis, there is a shrinking middle class not only in various regions, but, in metropolitan areas throughout the country. “The share of the American adult population that lives in middle-income households has fallen since 2000.” According to PEW’s analysis, the fallout is a result of the 2001 recession and the 2007-2009 Great Recession with slow recoveries after each of these economic downturns. On the other side, some argue that more people are becoming richer to be considered middle class any longer.3

As reported recently, “The 2008 financial crisis apparently knocked U.S. entrepreneurship to the ground, and it’s having a hard time returning to its feet.”4 It was noted in a recent paper of the Federal Reserve Board that when there is a decline of business entries (i.e. new businesses) that this affects the GDP and productivity. Over the past decade, the formation of individual business establishments has remained low, yet, it is noted that new companies or businesses “hire faster and produce higher levels of productivity than firms that have been around for a while.” Thus, some economists maintain that the decline in new business start-ups since the recession is creating labor market problems.

An economist with the Bank of America Merrill Lynch alludes to “tighter credit conditions as loans become harder to secure.” And, there are other factors that add to the dilemma of job growth and productivity. A recent report by Harvard Business School references “political dysfunction” as holding back the nation’s economic performance.

Once again, though, it’s apparent that small business pumps the economy. So, state governors and legislatures need to do more for small businesses and entrepreneurs. The New Jersey Legislature has persevered in securing appropriate state investment for small business technical assistance through the New Jersey Small Business Development Centers network (America’s SBDC New Jersey). The Legislature’s efforts are appreciated and duly noted on behalf of small businesses and entrepreneurs statewide.

BRENDA’S BLOG: SMALL BUSINESS VOICE-NJSBDC | WINTER-SPRING 2017

Entering a new year, we reflect on our network’s accomplishments in 2016. We are heartened that the NJSBDC network has achieved and surpassed its goals. This past year (2016) our SBDC network counseled and trained more than 12,000 small business owners, entrepreneurs and individuals. And, our impact improved across the board with all of our goal targets moving upward:

  • 19,514 total counseling hours delivered to 4,228 small business clients;
  • 567 SBDC clients started new businesses;
  • 57 percent of our total clients were established businesses;
  • $88.3 million in total financing facilitated for our small business clients;
  • Clients generated sales at $1.329 billion value;
  • Clients conservatively returned $70 million in sales tax revenues to the state, in addition to other state income tax and business tax revenues;
  • 16,115 created and saved jobs by assisting our clients;
  • 1,981 total training hours delivered at 545 training seminars with 8,279 trainees.

The added value of our program for small business health in our state contributes greatly to New Jersey’s economic development.
It was a great year! And, we’re looking forward to another banner year in 2017.

SMALL BUSINESS VOICE-NJSBDC | FALL-WINTER 2016

We’ve reached more than the half-year mark and already signs of success are in the air. Our Small Business Development Centers network, which is now focused on allocating greater resources for one-on-one management consulting and stable levels of training, has succeeded in accomplishing the following for the period covering January 1 through June 30, 2016:

  • We’ve provided one-on-one counseling for 2,593 clients with a total of 9,794 counseling hours;
  • 22% of the network’s clients received 5-plus hours of counseling;
  • 59% of NJSBDC network’s business client portfolio consists of established small businesses;
  • NJSBDC clients started 248 new businesses;
  • We’ve facilitated $52,134,594 in financing for our small business clients;
  • We’ve hosted 297 training events/seminars with 3,781 trainees attending;
  • Approximately 10% of our small business clients had $1 million or more in sales revenues and/or 10-plus employees;
  • We’ve assisted our clients to create and save 11,473 jobs.

We’re expecting to finish this year on a high note with great economic impact even though the economy seems to be weak. It’s all about “BIG IMPACT.”  That’s why the state’s investment level in our program is so important to leverage with federal and private sources of funding. Our network’s business experts are there for any small business owner or entrepreneur who wants to bring their operations or business to a higher level. Visit us for a full consultation and assessment and we can help you advance your path to success.