Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Your New Years’ Career Resolution… Improve Your Public Speaking Skills to Become a Leader or Stay a Leader


By Matt Eventoff
The end of one year and the beginning of the next is a time for self-evaluation, and asking yourself, “How can I improve?” or “What can I do to further my career?”
One area that almost always can be improved is presentation skills.  Effective presentation skills are crucial for leaders in the business world --- whether you are an executive already or are trying to move up in the ranks. Improving communication skills is an excellent way to increase productivity in the New Year.
Many communication tips seem basic, but remembering the basics and using them to your advantage is valuable in improving your skills.
Communicating effectively requires more than just having the right text or the right slide deck. You need to prepare and practice until you feel extremely comfortable.
There are brilliant, capable leaders who literally spend ten times longer preparing a presentation than practicing the delivery of the presentation.  Imagine an executive team that spends hundreds of hours putting together earnings reports, and less than one hour preparing for the call to talk about the report.   Imagine a corporate team leader who has a vision for the organization, but lacks the ability to communicate that vision effectively.  These scenarios occur more often than you realize, in businesses of all sizes --- by seasoned executives as well as aspiring executives.
A strong leader must exude confidence when he or she communicates. Confidence comes from practice and preparation.  Practice and preparation make the difference between a confident speaker and a speaker who is just muddling through.
Some of the basic lessons we’ve learned from great speakers of the past still apply in today’s corporate world. In his famous Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln’s used key tactics that are useful when addressing any group. Let’s look at three main techniques Lincoln used:
Be brief --- The entire address was less than 300 words and took less than three minutes. You don’t have to be long-winded to make your point. It means that when speaking or preparing your presentation, focus on what the audience really wants and needs to know, rather than just what you want to say.
Engage your listeners --- Focus on your message and engage your listeners by making it relevant to them, or at least interesting and easy to understand. Remember: You want to engage your audience, not try to impress them with the depth of your technical terminology or vocabulary. At the same time, you never want to “talk down” to your audience, either. Lincoln’s word choice was clear and effective --- and he quickly engaged his listeners.
Call to Action--- Keep in mind the purpose of your presentation or speech. Are you rallying your staff to action or modifying a behavior? Be clear on what you want them to do.  Keep your goal in mind. Lincoln’s goal was to bring together a nation torn by Civil War. 
So when you are preparing that big presentation to give in the boardroom --- or, to your staff or your boss --- remember to be brief, be engaging, and motivate your audience. 
And don’t forget to prepare and practice, practice, practice!  The more comfortable you are with the material before your presentation;the more relaxed and confident you will be when it is time to present.
Keep these basic public speaking tips in mind and you will be headed in the right direction for the New Year!
Matt Eventoff serves as a communication and messaging strategist for C-level executives in organizations ranging in size from startups to Fortune 100 firms, political leaders, nationally- recognized litigators, public figures and leaders from myriad other industries.  He has successfully prepared clients to appear before almost every audience and in multiple venues, including: the United States Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, State and Federal courts, corporate settings ranging in size from small board meetings to interviews on the floor of the NYSE and on nearly every network and major cable news program, including 60 Minutes, 20/20, Nightline, Dateline, Frontline, Hardball, and Good Morning America. To learn more about Mr. Eventoff, visit http://www.princetonpublicspeaking.com/.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

When Business and Personal Credit Collide

by John Ulzheimer



When I sat down to write this article I considered several titles; Not All Plastic is Created Equal, Don’t Take it Personally, Swiping Your Way Into Chapter 7, and several others that aren’t worth mentioning.  I chose the one with the word “Collide” because that’s how many small business owners feel when they make the mistake of mismanaging their small business credit card accounts.


What many small business owners don’t realize is that when they apply for small business credit cards they are really applying for personal credit cards.  The difference is that the business card has your company’s name emblazoned across the front, which is structurally meaningless.  This gives the impression that the card’s liability is assigned solely to the business.  Nothing could be further from the truth.
When you applied for your small business card, sometimes called a commercial card, you filled out an application.  And, within that application is what’s referred to as a “PG” or personal guarantee.  What those two words mean is that you, not the business, are on the hook for the payment of any debts incurred on that card, regardless of who incurs them.


As a general practice most small business credit card issuers do not proactively report your account activity to the three national consumer credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, as long as the account is in good standing.  There are, of course, always exceptions to this rule and the only way to truly confirm if your small business debts are bleeding over into your personal credit reports is to check them periodically, which you can do for free at www.annualcreditreport.com.   


What is almost a certainty is if you default on your business credit cards issued by a lender with whom you’ve signed a personal guarantee, the record of default will be reported to your personal credit reports in the amount of time it takes to boil an egg.  When this happens the defaulted debt then comports with all of the rules that govern the reporting of personal debt to a consumer credit-reporting agency.  Most notably, the reporting of the defaulted debt will remain on your personal credit reports for seven years from the date of the terminal delinquency, which is normally the date the lender wrote off the debt as “uncollectable.”


At this point the negative credit reporting will have a serious impact on your personal credit scores, unless your personal credit is already in the dumps because of other unrelated defaults.  This means lower credit scores, and right now isn’t the time to have lower scores because lenders, both personal and business, have tightened their lending standards in reaction to both economic and legislative changes.  Credit scoring systems, while amazingly sophisticated, are not designed to exclude small business debts.  Point being, if they’re on your personal credit reports they’re fair game to any and all credit scoring systems.
To make matters worse, the collection efforts of the spurned lenders are also going to be reflected on your personal credit reports.  Generally lenders will first attempt to collect defaulted debts internally, usually with staff collection personnel.  If this proves unsuccessful then their next step would be to enlist the assistance of a 3rd party debt collector.  The lender would either sell them debt or consign them responsibility of collecting the debt in exchange for a share of recovered monies.  Under either circumstance a record of the collection activity would also be reported to the consumer credit reporting agencies.

If collection agency or debt buyer efforts are still unsuccessful then their next step could be litigation.  Collection attorneys have become very aggressive in their efforts to collect defaulted credit card debt and while you can ignore phone calls and collection letters, it’s hard to ignore a process server who is delivering a lawsuit complaint.  In fact, if you do choose to ignore the lawsuit you’ll lose by default and the lender will now have what’s referred to as a default judgment against you.

The default judgment, which is also likely to end up on your personal credit reports, gives the Plaintiff the ability to pursue what’s referred to as a garnishment.  Under garnishment the Plaintiff can ask the court to order deductions from your wages until the entire debt has been paid.  This, of course, assumes that you’re gamefully employed.
See what I mean about using the word “Collide” in the title?
© enloop, Inc.

Negotiation Know-How: 6 Keys to Masterful Deal Making - Part II

What are the secrets to masterful deal making? Arthur Wylie continues his advice in this second offering.  Add these basic steps to becoming an ace dealmaker. Read Part I which was posted on December 7, 2011.

Key # 4: Be humble. You have to be humble, but firm, to effectively broker a deal. There’s a fine line between the two, particularly when you’re dealing with people who have already attained a measure of success.  Always respect the positions of the other people involved in your negotiations no matter how badly, or not, you want the deal. It’s important to be fair and honest about the negotiation and to keep your intentions pure. You need to let people know you have the ability and desire to perform the task with which you’re charged. You also need to showcase with quantifiable examples that you put 100 percent effort behind everything you do. At the same time, you must express genuine respect and appreciation for what the other parties, what they have done and who they are—even if they’re, well, jerks. Even a jerk can grow to appreciate, respect and ultimately benefit you, and once that two-way street is established negotiations can ensure and deals can be made. Humility with backbone. It’s a tricky combination to maintain but one that’s absolutely mission critical.

• Key # 5: Finesse. No matter how large or small, almost every deal takes finesse, which is where skill and natural ability meet. This is where you get to have fun and allow your personality to shine. It means being able to explore different angles and try the somewhat weird and wacky—maybe even a bit of the fearless and crazy. It’s problem solving with a twist. It’s poise and diplomacy. It’s art. In the end, when finesse comes into play, the parties genuinely like each other and all sides look for ways to make sure the deal becomes a reality. For the best wheeler-dealers, finesse comes naturally; they don’t even know they’re doing it. If you’re lucky, it works that way for you as well. If not, develop it, let it flow and have fun trying it. Before you know it, you’ll be finessing your deals, too.

• Key # 6: Swagger. Swagger is an attitude you implement through finesse; it uses finesse as a tool. If finesse is about problem solving and outside-the-box thinking, then swagger is about having commanding and authoritative disposition and demeanor but without being pretentious or arrogant. It’s about knowing how good you are and hinting at what you are capable of but without being braggadocios. Swagger is a spirited characteristic that you possess and radiate without ever compromising your integrity or sacrificing your general likability. In a deal-making situation, your swagger should exude confidence, success and fearlessness. Hit the right notes with your swagger, and you’ll walk away with what you want. Just one more step in perfecting your life-wealth plan.

~~~

Master the six steps outlined above and you’ll be ready for some high stakes deal making. Remember, though, that Rome wasn’t built in a day, so conquering negotiating skills isn’t going to happen that quickly either. Start small before attempting to hit the Big Leagues. You may have to stumble a few times, but just get back up and go at it again.  Along the way, keep both your successes and your failures in perspective, remembering that they are just stepping-stones along your lifetime of deal adventures.  Once you’ve mastered the art, aim high—just like those seemingly crazy and fearless billionaires.

Internationally-regarded investing and entertainment mogul Arthur Wylie is the author of “Only the Crazy and Fearless Win BIG!: The Surprising Secrets to Success in Business and in Life” (http://www.crazyandfearless.com/) and serves as CEO of Arthur Wylie Enterprises – a brand with diverse practice areas, including include business consulting, real estate, investing, speaking, entertainment/film production, book publishing and philanthropy.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Vision Casting for the Solopreneur


By Akia Garnett, MBA
Are you a small business owner with little – to – no staff?  If you are and haven’t written your vision statement try doing the following:
-Carve out a few hours and write what you see for yourself and the company.
*Try not to focus on making it pretty, just clear
*Try not to focus on any formula in terms of the number of words and tenses
*Simply write what the company looks like in a perfect world
Once you’ve done that then:

-Select a trusted advisor, someone you know well who doesn’t know a lot about your industry.
-Ask them to spend a few moments with you and read them the vision statement.
-Ask them if you’re able to send it to them and request it back from them with any suggested changes or comments within five days.
-Call and ask three to four of your business advisors to participate in a mini focus group (if you don’t have any business advisors, now is a good time to appoint some).
Consider the following agenda:

-Purpose of meeting
-Your passion and why you went into business – keep it brief, but make your points very well
-Review of main activities, products and services the company focuses on today
-Review of draft vision statement you’ve worked on with your trusted advisor
-Review of your vision statement publishing timeline – give it a few weeks from when you meet Keep the meeting to approximately one hour – preferably around the lunch time hour.  Provide them with written copies to take home with them, and request that they send any requests for clarification within two days.  Remember that you’re not asking for approval of your vision statement.  You’re simply allowing others to request clarification from you so that the vision statement makes sense, reads well, and most of all conveys what you mean it to and what you told them when you described why you went into business.
Once you have received feedback from your focus group attendees, then focus on editing the statement to rid it of any typos and inconsistencies.  Run it by an editor or someone who will catch whatever you didn’t and publish it!  You’ll need to review your statement every year during your budgeting process, and it should also be ever present in your office, Website, marketing collateral, where space provides, and other touch points for both you and your clients. Once you are done, I would like to hear your vision statement writing story. Send it to help@bestpracticesforsmallbusinesses.com

Akia T. Garnett, CEO Brandbuilder; CoAuthor, Seen and Sustained: Best Practices in Communication that Increase the Visibility of Small and Diverse Businesses
Complete an entire vision and mission mapping process. Order a copy of Seen and Sustained: Best Practices in Communication that Increase the Visibility of Small and Diverse Businesses for $19.95 plus taxes and shipping.  Find out how. www.bestpracticesforsmallbusinesses.com.
Seen and Sustained is on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Three Ways to Damage Your Credit With Business Financing

by John Ulzheimer
Unless you’re extremely fortunate there's a good chance at some point you'll want or need to get commercial financing to fund operations and growth.  One thing to keep in mind is that a bad debt will not only slow your company’s growth and profitability, but it can create cash-flow challenges and have a trickle-down effect on your ability to cover your quarterly IRS liabilities.  Conversely, a properly obtained business loan used for revenue generating activities can not only help you propel your company where you need it to go but can also be cash-flow friendly, offer tax benefits, and possibly be kept off your personal credit profiles.
Personal Credit Cards For Business Use
While it’s tempting, it’s probably not the best idea to use personal credit cards to fund your business.  But if you’re already doing so, you’re not alone.  According to the Meredith Whitney Advisory Group, 82% of small business owners use credit cards as part of their funding strategy.  If you believe the stats, and there’s really no reason not to, you’re either already doing it or will eventually.
Hopefully you’ll eventually make the move and utilize business credit cards (instead of personal credit cards) and when you do you’ll want to work on the much more difficult task of understanding whether the business credit cards you're utilizing will be reported to your personal credit reports.  Why?  30% of your personal FICO credit score is determined by your indebtedness and much of that 30% is made up of what’s referred to as  "revolving utilization", which is the relationship between the balances on your credit cards to your credit limits expressed as a percentage.
This means with each swipe of your credit cards your FICO score is heading on a vacation south of where it's at today, which means more expensive (or limited) financing down the road. For example, an aggressively marketing business credit card issuer is Capital One, which is a perfectly reputable lender.  But, “they report business card use to personal credit files”, according to Tom Gazaway, President of Hawkeye Management, a small business consultancy firm.  “You need to be aware of their credit reporting policies because it will have an impact on your personal credit scores.”
Aggressively Seeking Credit
The second thing that can lead to damaging your personal credit is the shotgun approach to applying for business credit.  “I call this the Lending Tree phenomenon”, says Gazaway.  Applying for several loans or lines of credit from multiple lenders, while seemingly prudent is rarely a wise decision if there's no method to the madness.  Multiple applications mean multiple credit inquiries and inquiries make up 10% of the points in your FICO scores.
Perhaps more importantly excessive inquiries will send a message to the rest of the lending world that you're looking all over for a loan.  When you submit that 4th or 5th application - assuming there's no strategy behind that plan - how do you think the underwriter will feel when he knows your file has been to multiple other lenders before him/her.  How would you feel to be #5 on someone’s list?
When you think about it like you almost realize that the multiple inquiries will not only impact your credit scores but they will also impact you at the “underwriting policy” level.  “The number one reason for people with excellent credit to be denied a business credit card is for having too many recent inquiries”, according to Gazaway.  Get your plan together and shop around verbally or online as much as possible before pulling the trigger on an official application.
Treating Business Credit Like a Personal Friend
First off, thinking of any lender or credit vehicle in a personal sense or as a friend is dangerous.  It’s dangerous because your lenders will drop you faster than you can flip off a light switch the minute they feel you’ve become too risky with which to do business.  The real take away, however, is to avoid treating a business line of credit the same way you would treat a loan or a mortgage.
While this might seem like “lending 101”, it’s not actually that simple.  As a nation we've become pretty knowledgeable about the basics of how mortgages and auto loans work. These are almost always fixed-rate installment loans.  This means you have the same payment every month for X number of years.  And, as most of you homeowners know, your mortgage payment is due on the first of the month but not past due until the 17th of the month.
Zoom back to the 82% of the small business owners who are using personal credit cards as a key funding mechanism in their business. Can you consistently pay your credit card(s) 17 days late without a penalty?  No way.  In fact, you can’t your credit card(s) 1 day late without penalty?  The takeaway – the due date on your business credit cards (or personal cards used for business) is not a friendly suggestion. 
© enloop, Inc.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Negotiation Know-How: 6 Keys to Masterful Deal Making - Part I

By Arthur Wylie

Whether in your business or personal life, making deals—from the biggest ones that take months to finalize and involve teams of lawyers to the nominal ones that are sealed with a handshake after a 10-minute chat—is an art. Deal making is a craft that, when done well, requires a skillful, visionary and inspired application of key principles and methods to create a desirable end result. When you’ve mastered this art, you will successfully negotiate deals in which all parties involved walk away with a win.

And, don’t underestimate the small deals, which can help you gain confidence with the process and also nurture other people’s confidence in you—and reverence for you.  Indeed, it’s often the culmination of small deals that lead to the big one. Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg and Sam Walton didn’t start out making headlines. They crawled before they could walk and ultimately made sure they were prepared to win the proverbial race when they approached the starting line of a mammoth business deal.

What are the secrets to masterful deal making? Below are some basic steps to becoming an ace dealmaker—skills that will help bolster your position whether you’re negotiating for a railroad or a rental car, and whether you’re acting on behalf of a worldwide organization, a sole proprietorship or just your own personal finances:

• Key # 1: Know your value. While you can’t know every possible result that the other party would want, be sure to understand what your offer or position can do for them. This means researching all the potential benefits and ways that your idea, product and/or service could help the other party, whether it is solve a problem, increase earning potential or simply make their life or business more convenient and enjoyable. If your argument is lacking some key benefit, then it is up to you to figure out how to adapt it so that it can serve the needs of your target audience while also achieving your own objectives. This takes time, effort, forethought and sometimes research, but it is well worth it when it’s clear to the other party that you not only understand their needs, but you also seek to structure an agreement that’s in their direct best interest as well.  

• Key # 2: Personal relations. Relationship management is the key to showing the other party who you are as an individual, what you can do, where your values lie and how the deal at hand will benefit everyone involved. You learn about them; they learn about you – it’s a two way street. Both parties must feel that there’s synergy – a chemistry of sorts; only then can a mutually beneficial relationship be forged. From there, you present your win-win case, handshakes are offered and agreements are signed. Frequently, deals can close quickly and easily because people have come to know and trust you, either directly or by referral, making them comfortable to do business with you. If you create a strong enough brand and a stellar enough reputation, others will want to be part of the success you’ve amassed.   Your opposition will clamor to close the deal with you.

• Key # 3: Get buy-in on your vision. Getting others on board with your plan can be challenging, especially when there are many people involved and/or there is much at stake relative to risk and potential upside. A critical step in artful deal making is to convey and articulate your vision of the outcome in such a way that the opposing party will desire that very same outcome.   The “WIIFM’ – “what’s in it for me” – factor must be made crystal clear to the other party as you present your position. Of course, to do this effectively, you must first understand, or predict based on sound preparation, what the vision of the other party is likely to be at the onset of negotiations. This way, you can appropriately integrate synergistic ideas so that the visions ultimately meld.  In addition, vision buy-in will be facilitated if you underscore to the other person that they will still be involved at a conceptual level as the project ensues.

Stay tuned next week for Part II of this article...

Internationally-regarded investing and entertainment mogul Arthur Wylie is the author of “Only the Crazy and Fearless Win BIG!: The Surprising Secrets to Success in Business and in Life” (www.CrazyandFearless.com) and serves as CEO of Arthur Wylie Enterprises – a brand with diverse practice areas, including include business consulting, real estate, investing, speaking, entertainment/film production, book publishing and philanthropy.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Seal It With a Stamp – Gift Giving Vs. Good Service

 
By Akia T. Garnett, MBA
Customer Retention Program Basics
My pal, Frank McKinney, co-franchisee of a soon to be opened Tide Dry Cleaners which will be located in northern Virginia, former franchisee of a restaurant called Camille’s Sidewalk Cafe, and representative for an online greeting card generation and mailing company Send Out Cards (which allows for customization and mass mailing at reduced prices) asked me if I thought that sending out greeting cards to clients is a good relationship building tactic.  I provided Frank with my thoughts and he suggested that I feature this topic as a blog. Below are my thoughts on using cards (and gifts) as a basic customer retention tactic:
Sending greeting cards and gifts are a great way to say “Thank You”, “Happy Holidays”, “Happy Birthday”, to show appreciation, and of course, to re-engage a client with whom you’ve lost touch.  The messaging of today’s greeting cards have advanced, whereas they are both diverse and specific, which provide even more opportunities to personally address your clients throughout the year.
In addition to the sleek customization services that today’s card automation companies offer, companies specializing in premiums and corporate gifts have even more automation capabilities to personalize and package merchandise in small and large quantities.  Both types of companies have made it easier to mass produce and expedite the packaging and shipping process while maintaining the integrity of a corporate brand.
Here’s one example.  Sarah Meisenhelter, Long and Foster realtor located in Northern Virginia has created and maintained an annual calendar mailing campaign as a “thank you” gift for her clients.  Below is what she had to say:
“We’ve sent 8″x11″ calendars that go on the fridge for years (at least 10+). The primary reason we send them is to offer a small gift to our clients, many of whom have become friends over the years. We add new clients to the program and always send one to previous clients. At this point, we have a large number of people who look forward to receiving these every year and will contact us in mid-December if they haven’t received theirs yet. We also include a personal family photo with a holiday greeting. Many people look forward to seeing how the grandkids have grown and how many we have currently, which creates a very personal feel. We truly don’t do this as a way to get more business. It’s just a “thank you” and a good wish for the new year.”
Here’s the Tricky Part: It is important to separate cards and gifts from the ‘work’ you actually do for your client(s).
Cards and gifts serve as relationship building tools. They cannot be used in place of good service, neither can they be used to build a substantive and authentic relationship with your clients.  No matter how great the gesture or gift, in today’s competitive marketplace, good service is still king.  Therefore, customers will voice their right to receive what they’ve paid for.  Likewise, for relationships gone sour, cards and gifts might help temporarily, but they won’t guarantee that clients will not leave if the greater issues are not  addressed in ways that meet their expectations for curing problems.
Showering Clients … with Good Service
Even though retention management is a great concept, remember that if your aim is to maintain market share, or encourage repeat business, investing time and effort into understanding how to deliver great service will better ensure success in that area.  It is important to remember that problems will always arise, deadlines will not always be met, service deliverers will sometimes get it wrong, and occasionally, clients simply won’t be happy.  What do you do in those instances? Focus on your ability to deliver good service and less on gift giving. Once you’ve smoothed out your operations, any relationship building program you resume or intensify will positively correlate with the client’s experience of your brand. When service delivery and relationship building are done well, top of mind awareness (TOMA) with your clients is maintained – thereby increasing the likelihood of repeat business.
Caution: Be sure you understand and have permission to speak.
It is important to have some concept of who your clients (or prospects) are before you mail greeting cards or send gifts.  Keep in mind that procurement policies may prohibit some clients from receiving gifts of any kind. Additionally, everyone doesn’t celebrate birthdays, and neither does everyone observe holidays.  Taking a chance by mailing them without permission is what many companies do.  However the best way to know if and when clients want to be mailed is to ask them.  In marketing terms, allow them to opt – in to your mailings for cards, and find out about their procurement policies for gifts.  When your clients give you permission to include them in your retention programs and when it is appropriate to do so, your relationship building tactics will go even further.
Akia T. Garnett is CEO of Brandbuilder
Email: A.T@MasterYourBrand.com
Direct: 571.931.0137
URL: www.MasterYourBrand.com
URL: www.BestPracticesforSmallBusinesses.com