Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Your Real Brand Ambassadors Are Not Who You Think

(Guest Post by Volunteer Small Business Counselor Brandi L. Holder)


Who are your brand ambassadors? If you think it is your sales people you, my friend, are dead wrong.
Let me tell you a little story about a house renovation project. These are the things that nightmares and divorce decrees are made of. But I don’t think it is because of the reasons generally brought to mind.  It’s not really about the arguing over how to do things, different tastes/styles, or money. I think it is more about the fact that everything in a renovation takes twice as long and costs twice as much as what you planned. It is in these moments of contractors slapping you with a 50% overage on an estimate, incorrectly designed cabinets, and “crown molding costs WHAT a square foot” that you and your partner find ways look the other way during personal meltdowns. Couples that have gone through a renovation can come out the other side with a better understanding of how their partner handles stressful events and how they themselves handle their partners reaction to the stressor.

Our renovation project has been a work in progress for over a year. And now in the final 60 day window we are having a problem getting the kitchen island to look like what we thought it was going to look like. Part of the problem developed when our original sales person was let go and no one at the company contacted us. After days of not hearing anything we had to start over with a new sales person and their interpretation of our concept.  Since we had kept all the documentation and the new sales person had our file, we believed we were still on track.   But lo and behold, there was a miscommunication on the design of the island which is now costing more money and holding up the rest of the project.

Things got even more botched when the team sent to fix the island was not the original team on the cabinet job. My thoughts on how to fix the island were communicated to the sales person, but lost in translation to the production team. When the installer showed up he did not have any concept of what we were wanting nor did he have proper materials to complete the job. This in turn meant that the counter top person could not do their job that day, and as a contractor lost a day’s pay.

And boy does it turn into the shell swapping blame game from there.  The installer, feeling like an idiot, begins trying to explain that the communication at the company is nonexistent and that it is not his fault. When this happens on a consistent basis the person on the front line ends up trashing the team because they feel resentful for being in this type of predicament. Our guy was pretty diplomatic, but it was easy to see that he was left in the dark and therefore left holding the bag when the customer was unhappy.

Proper communication between sales and production would have solved this and kept the company’s reputation intact. All too often a sales force is separated from a delivery team either by physical location or lack of interest.  Sales people have been made to feel like they rule the roost – and at times they should.  If your team doesn’t believe in your company enough to be able to close deals then your company will suffer.  That being said, having a stellar sales force doesn’t mean a damn thing if you fall down on the delivery.  Typically, your delivery takes place outside of the sales floor with an installer, an IT professional, a maintenance person, etc.  THEY are your company’s reputation.  Not the slick sales person.

That story I watched unfold in my half-complete kitchen is the same thing I have witnessed time and time again in the apartment industry.  Leasing agents deliver a slick bells and whistles show stopping pitch only to have things fall apart on the delivery either because the apartment wasn’t pristine or because it wasn’t delivered on time.  This becomes a high hurdle to jump and it adds to the anecdotes we love to tell others and post on review sites.

During my career in the housing industry what made me appear successful to upper management was my ability to connect with people and close deals. What actually made me successful is how I worked hard to develop strong relationships with my maintenance team.  I knew how to negotiate a quick move in, the time it would take to turn a trashed apartment, and how to buy time for work order completion.  I also knew that through the time and attention I devoted to understanding my maintenance team they would help me out.  In the end if I made a mistaken undeliverable promise they’d find a way to get it done or at the very least, back me up instead of trashing the company.
For me, maintenance people are the heart and soul of the operation.  They are the last person in line with the sales promise and the first person in line when the customer is unhappy. Shouldn’t the people delivering your product feel like you’ve got their back? Doesn’t your customer deserve that?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Where Did My Cash Go?

Where Did My Cash Go?

It is a question many small business owners ask themselves way too often. In this column, I have written about the balance sheet and the income statement as financial tools to help entrepreneurs manage their business. But what if that entrepreneur could predict how much cash would be coming in to and going out of the business on a monthly basis? Or better yet, be able to look further months down the road and have an idea of the in and out flow of cash?

This final of the big three financial reports is called the Cash Flow Statement. This report shows the cash received and paid out on a time specified period as related to the business’s revenue and expense categories found on the income statement. This report is very helpful for start-ups.

A simple analogy of this report would be to look at the business checkbook where each deposit and withdrawal is recorded. The cash flow report does the same thing except it groups the in and out flows under categories. By doing this, the owner is able to see monthly trends by categories and annually start to adjust for seasonal variances.

This report also helps the owner stay on top of the business cash cycle – the time lapse from when money was spent to generate sales till the revenue from sales comes in to the business. This cycle could be days, weeks or months but it shows the owner if additional cash is needed to cover expenses until sales revenue comes in from the sales related expenditure.

The cash cycle sounds easy but the devil is in the details. The owner will need to be diligent in tracking the cash flow in and out of the business on a regular basis.

For more information on this final top three financial small business statement or questions, feel free to contact me, Richard Proffer, business development specialist, at 573-243-3581 or email at

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Balance Sheet – Does it Matter to a Business?

The one of three forms a business owner often does not understand is a balance sheet. This form is one of the best methods for an owner to see the financial health of the business and possibly start to see where to improve the business.

The balance sheet is divided into three parts – assets, liabilities, and equity. An asset is something a business owns or has value like cash, equipment, inventory and investments. When completing a balance sheet, do not forget to include items you may not have complete ownership of like the building, a leased car etc. 

There are two types of assets – current and non-current. A current asset can be turned into cash quickly (usually within one year) like cash, accounts receivable and inventory. A business owner would not normally expect to keep owed amounts or inventory past this one year time frame. A non-current asset is the opposite – it is not expected to be turned into cash quickly and include items like fixed assets (land, facilities, equipment and cars). These assets tend to be used in creating sales for the business.

The second part of the balance sheet is the liabilities. This is where the business reports what it owes to other people or businesses. Another name for these items is accounts payable. Again, this section is divided into current and non-current liabilities under the same requirements as assets. Current liabilities are items that can be paid off within a year and non-current are items longer than a year.

The final section is equity, and shows how much the business is worth to the owner(s). It should be the difference between assets minus liabilities. This section can be either positive or negative depending on what is happening within the business. If there is a decision to expand operations, then this section may be in the red due to increased expenses. If there was a significant increase in sales, the owner may decide to keep money in the business for future use and it would be in the black.

The one thing a balance sheet does not show is how profitable a business is. This is reported on the income statement (a form we will talk about in another column).

As a business owner, the balance sheet helps to provide a snapshot of the health of the business at a given moment, and is an aid in deciding on future plans for the business. If there are questions about a balance sheet or any part of your business, feel free to contact me, Richard Proffer, at the University of Missouri Extension Small Business Technology Development Center at 573-243-3581.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Funding Sources

“Yes Virginia, there is Funding for your Business…”

Just as the headline refers to the 1890’s news story in The (New York) Sun, there is funding in the capital world for many business if they cannot get it from traditional local or institutional banks.

A business should always try to go local first in seeking funding either from community banks or the larger regional/institutional banks. But not every business can fit the criteria of local banks. When turned down, they must go elsewhere. But where is "elsewhere", is the question University of Missouri Extension Business Development counselors often get when these entrepreneurs come to our offices.

We begin by learning about the business, its past financial performance and where the owner wants to go with the new funding. Then we proceed with a matching up process for the business against several new opportunities on the lending market.

One set of new lenders is the nonprofit sector. While nonprofits have always been around, more and more are starting to lend money to qualified business owners or startups. The lendee must meet criteria set by the nonprofit. If met, the terms are usually more flexible than a traditional bank loan. In most cases, the lendee must show refusals letters from banks as proof of need.

Another set is the online environment. Companies like OnDeck, Lending Club, Street Shares, Source 1 Capital and many others are now competing for local loans as many banking communities continue to have tight lending requirements. Here the entrepreneur goes to the website, completes the profile and the people behind the scenes go to work on matching the request up to potential lenders. These lenders may be national banks outside of the local market area, financial investors, venture capital firms or other people or organizations willing to lend money to the entrepreneurial marketplace.

A second part of the online lending world are the peer to peer networks. Here the entrepreneur tells the business’s story, the need for capital and the planned uses for it. As people read the application, they decide on to invest or not in the opportunity. Examples of this type of lending are Kabbage, Kiva, Prosper, and Zopa.

Another way, that is gaining popularity amongst early retirees, is using their tax-deferred retirement savings to start a business. This method is complicated due to the tax liability and the many maneuvers needed to avoid tax penalties for early withdrawal. Guidant iFinance is an example of this type of lending.

One not so new way,  is using credit cards. The National Small Business Association reported that about 33 percent of small businesses has used credit card financing in the last 12 months to help meet capital needs. Overusing this method can lead to cash flow chokes later on in the life of the business so entrepreneurs really need to plan out their usage of this option.

One final way is through membership stores like Sam’s Club or Costco’s.  They are turning to lending to their membership businesses as a way to help grow market share and retain customers. It is important to know that only businesses can apply for these loans and not a consumer. These loans are traditionally under $25,000 and membership is required for application. Not all club stores participate in this program so the entrepreneur will need to ask their local store for details.

Your local Extension small business technology and development center in Jackson, MO is glad to help entrepreneurs sort out the business’s financial needs and match up sources of capital that will increase cash flow and create a healthier business. Just call 573-243-3581 and ask for Richard Proffer or email at

Funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA. Programs are extended to the public on a non-discriminatory basis. Reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities will be made if requested at least two week in advance. Contact Richard Proffer, University of MO Extension, 684 West Jackson Trail, Jackson, MO 653755 or at 573-243-3581.