A Staples Survey Explains Why You May Soon Go Bankrupt

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(This post originally appeared on Inc.)

Last week, office products supplier Staples released a survey that focused primarily on technology. It revealed a few not-so-surprising facts about small business owners.

For example, 47% of small business owners consider email to be their top business application and 71% say the computer is the most important piece of office equipment. No big news there. 96% of those surveyed admit that they are involved in the big business decisions. Of course. And 62% are looking forward to the fall as the start of the holiday season. Ho-hum. None of this comes as a big surprise, does it? (Staples, by the way, is a client of my company but I have received no compensation from them for writing this).

However, read a little closer and you will find a surprise. A big surprise. A revealing bit of information that’s important to every person who runs a business. It’s this: 63% of the small business owners surveyed by Staples said that they do not have a five year plan. Seriously?

In the past two years close to 100,000 businesses have filed for bankruptcy. And that doesn’t include the number of businesses that were just abandoned, sold off or wound down. We hear about the high failure rate of startups which, according to some reports, are as much as 75% to 90% within their first five years of existence. Many, like investors Marc Andreesen and Bill Gurley, are worried about how venture capital backed startups are burning through their cash. In fact, Gurley says that companies can’t just sit back and play conservative with their money, they are compelled to spend and attempt to grow business with the venture money, even if that isn’t the best business decision. Read More…

The One Question Successful Business Owners Always Ask Themselves

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

run a 10-person company and it’s profitable. Don’t get the wrong impression. I’m not making millions, but the company does well enough to provide for my people and my family. It wasn’t always this way, though.

For the first five or six years of my business, I barely made a living. It wasn’t for lack of work. I was really busy. But my business wasn’t growing. It wasn’t successful. I looked at some of my clients who were successful and I asked myself why. I asked them questions. The answer, most of them told me, was that I was asking the wrong questions.

The successful business owners whom I worked with then and collaborate with today are of course passionate, hardworking, bright, creative and entrepreneurial. But they all have something else in common. Every day, many times a day, they ask a simple question. And they always pose that same question to themselves. Can you guess what it is?

You’re thinking perhaps it has something to do with marketing, competition, cash flow or strategy. Yes, the one question successful business owners ask is about all that. And yet it’s also about none of that. The one simple question successful business owners are always asking is this: Who will do it for me?

These words are a life-altering discovery. This is what separates the successful business owners I know from the ones that never win. They ask, Who will do it for me? These are not lazy people. They are not avoiding responsibilities. They are managers and leaders. And they are successful.

Every day when you run a business there are things to do, tasks to complete, projects to work on, questions that need to be answered and problems that need to be solved. Many business owners shoulder these burdens. They take it upon themselves to solve every issue. They equate being busy with being successful.

They justify their own importance with the perceived requirement that they must do it all. They don’t trust others to do the work. They are of the belief that no one else can do what they do. And this belief dooms them.

Ever wonder why CEOs and senior managers of large corporations make so much money? It’s because they are able to motivate, manage and lead tens of thousands of others to do the stuff they need done to accomplish their goals.

So here’s what you should do: Ask that same question.

The next time a customer makes a request, a problem needs to be fixed, an issue needs to be resolved, don’t sigh and calculate how much time and sacrifice is going to be required of you. Don’t complain about all the hours this will take away from your family. Don’t become frustrated because this new problem will divert your energy away from something else.

Instead, just ask yourself, Who is going to do it for me? If there’s someone at the company who’s capable or at least an individual who could be asked to give it a shot, then rely on that person.

If not, outsource the task. Or consider hiring that person.

Take a step back. Delegate. Trust. This is not easy. You’re not used to giving up control. You are apprehensive. But if you want to really succeed as a business owner and manager, understand this: Your true value is not to complete tasks but to lead and manage.

Let other people do stuff. Let your people make their mistakes. Allow them to grow. If they’re given the opportunity to step up to the plate, they will hit the ball. And you will benefit and grow.

Why Is Xerox Giving Away Free Printers?

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(This post originally appeared on Forbes)

Remember the days when you purchased a software application and paid for it one-time upfront? And then the software company would beg you to sign up for one of their maintenance and support plans so that you could receive upgrades and continuing service? Not anymore. Today, most software companies have discovered the lucrative world of the cloud and they are moving away from the old model of paying up front. Now they “give” the software to their customers, in exchange for a monthly fee that covers all support, maintenance and upgrades. The model has been tremendously successful. So successful that some of the largest software companies, from Microsoft to Oracle, are focusing much of their future R&D on cloud based applications, rather than “on-premise.” And so successful that other technology companies are looking to do the same. Like Xerox Corporation.

Disclosure: Xerox Corporation is a client of my company. However, I have received no compensation for this piece. Read More…

Would you spend $1 million on tech, marketing, or advertising?

What would you do if someone just gave you a million dollars for your business? No strings attached. No questions asked.

According to the Staples Small Business Owner Success survey two-thirds of small business owners would spend it on either technology or marketing and advertising.

We’re not talking about the desire for the latest wearable tech (although, hey, put us on that list), but the fact that, bread-and-butter technology investments allow us to do more, innovate faster and work smarter. No matter the size of your small business, three reasons an investment in technology make sense:

Do more from our mobile phones: Let’s face it, more and more applications allow us to do more jobs and tasks from our mobile devices.

Work remotely: Surveys have shown that telecommuting makes for happier workers. Let’s untether them and allow them to work from home. And switch over their laundry between client calls.

Read More…

5 Tax Mistakes You’re Making Right Now

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(This post originally appeared on Inc.)

I know, it’s a busy time of year. You’re back from the summer holidays. Orders need to get out the door. Projects need to be done. Budgets need to be approved. You’re doing your best. But there’s something big you’re not doing. And you know it. It has to do with your taxes, which, if you’re making profits, is likely the biggest expense on your income statement. You could be doing things right now to save on taxes. But you hate taxes and even talking about them kind of upsets your stomach. Me too. But you need to do pay attention. Now. Because if you’re like most of my clients you’re making at least five mistakes. Fixable mistakes, as long as you take action right away.

You’re not making your estimated payments. Or you’re making them, but just not on time. Or you’re making them, but you’re not paying in the full amount it. I get it–it never seems like you have enough cash. It physically repels to sign the check. It kills you that just when you see your business starting to thrive you get knocked back with a giant tax payment. But this is the law and many of my clients try to pretend it’s not. If you make your payments late you’ll be subject to penalties and fines. If you don’t make your payments you’ll be subject to penalties, fines and a whopping tax bill next year when you file your returns. And if you don’t make your payment then well I have two words for you: Wesley Snipes. The smart business people I know suck it up, schedule their tax payments with their other accounts payables and forecast this amount as a required quarterly disbursement along with everything else. Tax payments are not optional. Don’t make this mistake. Read More…

Why The Home Depot Breach Is Worse Than You Think

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(This post originally appeared on Forbes)

A few weeks ago, my wife and I discovered that our credit card number was stolen. How? She got flowers.

Yes, flowers. A dozen red roses arrived for her one day. This was a true mystery. I don’t normally send flowers to my wife – a practice I’ve been recently reminded to change. Our kids are broke and would never send her flowers unless it was a very special occasion. She’s not, to my knowledge, having an affair (she works full time and who has the energy to do these things nowadays anyway?).  Our only clue was the card that accompanied the flowers and which had just one word on it: “Happy!” We were baffled. Who would do such a thing? Well, soon enough the mystery was solved. And we certainly found out why the sender was so happy.

That’s because just a few days later our credit card was declined. When we called upMasterCard MA -0.39% we were told that their computers had picked up a few suspected fraudulent transactions on my wife’s card. More than just a few it turned out. In fact, there were about fifty purchases made with our card for things we never knew about or authorized. And yup – one of them was for a dozen red roses at a local florist. For almost two hours, my wife went through each and every transaction with the MasterCard agent (who was great, by the way). We are still receiving daily updates and information about the charges. We were without our cards for a few days until new ones were sent. And now the “your card was declined” emails from online vendors that we use are starting to trickle in. Read More…

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