After a session of entering receipts and generating invoices in QuickBooks, I will always run financial reports to see how Dunkirk Systems is doing. These reports not only tell me what my revenues are, but the price of doing business in the cost of goods sold and expenses incurred along the way. Though I am very close to every financial decision made, it is good to see it all together in a big-picture format.
Like any good small businessperson, I am never satisfied with the numbers. But what can I do about it? Are my products and services being offered at a fair price that the market can bear? Can I charge more? Should I charge more? And why are my costs what they are? Could I get a better price on services? And who would be offering those services? Then there is the all important question – where am I paying more for a particular service or for a service overall that I do not need, both in its cost and in the people involved in delivering it?
The answers to these questions and others pertaining to pricing and costs do not necessarily come with quick answers, and require thoughtful analysis and sometimes hard decision-making. But I did not start a small business to make things easy, did I? This part of leading a small business is one many people do not realize is required as they venture into it. It is also one they do not like to perform and may struggle with. But as the leader of a small business it is one they must do and do thoroughly. Focusing on solely revenues and not expenses or vice versa can have a negative effect on the vitality of the small business.
Now, if you substitute “small business” for any other entity type, does the above still make sense? What if I swapped in “corporation” or “non-profit organization” or even “government agency” would what I said still apply?
My goal with The Hot Iron is to write about issues impacting small business and technology and in the past have opted against delving into politics. However I do not live in a bubble, rather in the City of Chicago in Cook County in the state of Illinois in the US. Proposed tax increases by the city, county and state could increase varying taxes and fees to some of the highest levels in the US. Where the intent is to fund services, it could make existence in this great city unbearable.
So I ask the leaders of where I live – please swap your title and governing body in the above text and provide detailed answers to the questions. This leadership is the minimum requirement you need to provide to your constituents, many of whom are very accustomed to doing this for themselves.Business • (3) Comments • Permalink
Today, October 15, 2007 is Blog Action Day. The idea is that on one day, bloggers around the world write a post on a common topic – the environment. As this is a broad topic, I decided to write something in line with the capitalist theme of The Hot Iron. I will recount 2 stories of extremes in retail shopping bags and packaging.
On a trip to Amsterdam, my lovely wife and I stayed with our friend, and after a day of sightseeing we decided to pick up some snacks for when our friend got home. We stopped at a Dirk van den Broek, a Dutch chain of grocery stores. After selecting an assortment of meats, cheeses and breads, we proceeded through the checkout. Noticing no clerks were bagging groceries, my wife went ahead to bag them as I paid. One problem – no bags! It was not that they were out of bags, they simply did not have them at all.
A quick glance around the store saw everyone else but us with their own bag or basket, collecting their purchases and heading for the exit. We did not have far to go, so we pulled our shirts up, filled them with our purchases and headed for our friend’s home. When she arrived, we told her our story to her amusement. She told us everyone usually carries a bad or basket when grocery shopping, especially at Dirk's.
Earlier this summer my wife came home and couldn’t wait to show me the new pair of flip-flops she got at J. Crew. As she unwrapped and pulled them out of the bag to show me, she met my look of shock and awe. Where she initially thought I disapproved of her purchase, my issue was not with what she bought, it was how the store clerk packaged it for her almost one mile trip home.
The accompanying picture shows the amount of packaging J. Crew felt was necessary for a US$10 pair of flip-flops. The footwear was wrapped in several layers of white tissue paper, sealed with a J. Crew label. This was placed in a boutique-style shopping bag with a rope handle. The purchase receipt was folded and inserted in a heavy paper envelope, probably in the unlikely event the name of the store was not recognized on the receipt itself. All of this preparation was done before my wife could have asked them not to do so.
Many times we as individuals find it hard to see how we can make a difference on large issues such as the environment. Making incremental, economic steps is one way to make a personal difference and influence those around us.Business • Diversions • (1) Comments • Permalink
Chicagoans were excited to hear that on a recent visit to France its mayor Richard Daley was going to check out bicycle rental, namely the Velib service for on-demand bike rental. This system relies on renting bikes from and returning them to a “service point.” On a recent visit to Germany, I saw examples of bike rental where the bikes stand alone.
In Berlin it was not uncommon to see red and silver bikes with a “DB” logo, part of the Call A Bike service. The service is summarized on this English-language page on their Web site, and it is a straightforward service where you establish an account, and when you want a bike you call a phone number, enter the code on the bike, then enter an access code on the bike and you’re on your way. This picture was taken at the Potsdamer Platz train station with several bikes available. Many times I saw just one bike, all alone, waiting to be rented. The bikes have a unique design and even a carrier with a cable for carrying packages. Click on the photo for a larger view.
I also found DB bikes around Frankfurt, as well as bikes from another vendor available for rental in a similar manner. By being able to rent and leave them wherever your destination is, the service is extremely convenient. When you are done with the bike, you lock it to a sign post and call in the location and it is picked up.
By the way, DB stands for Deutsche Bahn, the German national railroad. Now that is an integrated transportation system!Business • (2) Comments • Permalink
Have you updated your LinkedIn profile to include a photo? What you say, you didn’t know that you could do it? I only heard about it from a blog post last week that it was available as of last Friday – sorry I forget which one, as I was on vacation – and just remembered to do it today.
While I was at it, I also added the photo to the right sidebar of The Hot Iron. I have been meaning to add it, as many bloggers have pointed out that I haven’t had it there.
I’m surprised it took this long for LinkedIn to offer this. And in a limiting fashion that is all too familiar with the social networking site, you can only upload one photo, and it is limited to the size of a postage stamp. You must also be logged into LinkedIn to see one as well. Photos have been available out of the gate from the large networking sites like Facebook and MySpace – and don’t forget forums too! Now if LinkedIn can provide users the option to link to anyone else within the overall network so I don’t have to keep forwarding requests along… well, one can only dream.Business • (5) Comments • Permalink
Please make unlocked versions of your smart phones.
Last week Palm introduced the Centro, the latest addition to their Treo line of smartphones. This model is only $99, and has features of many of the pricier models. However, this model is only available to Sprint customers in the US.
When a phone of any model only works with a certain network, it is considered a “locked” device. This is nothing new, and has been the case in the US for years. In Europe, most phones are unlocked, where you can use them no matter who you get your service from. So if you change service providers, you don’t have to buy a new phone. Sure, in the US you can get some version of a free phone if you switch, but why bother if the old one only ends up in a landfill?
It has taken the Apple iPhone to raise the issue of locked phones. The iPhone is only available to AT&T customers, so if you want to use the new phone, you have to switch. This prompted people around the globe to work to unlock the phones, much to the dismay of Apple. Their response was cool, only saying software upgrades will render an unlocked phone useless, and more electronics to the landfill.
A locked phone does that – it locks you to a network. As mobile phone service seems to be a commodity these days in the US at least – I’d say the exception is T-Mobile, whom I have – a locked phone and a cancellation is the only way providers retain customers, not on the quality of their service. But if your phone will work elsewhere, it is not only allowing you to choose the best service, but the best phone for you as well. This fact has not resonated with the mobile companies in the US, which would also explain why they still call themselves “wireless” and “cellular” and not mobile.
There are plenty of reviews out there on the Centro, and I won’t be able to contribute to the discussion as I won’t be able to buy one. I still own and like my Treo 680, which unfortunately is the only unlocked model sold by Palm. But the insanity must stop, and unlocked phones must become the standard, as it’s well documented we are running out of landfill space.Business • Technology • (2) Comments • Permalink
I call likemind it a gathering of creative-minded people, from various disciplines including Internet, advertising, art, et. al. Coffee is free, provided by your gracious host Clay on behalf of Anomaly.Business • (0) Comments • Permalink
What seems like many moons ago now, as I was preparing to take on my first role where I had the word “manager” in the title, I sought advice from my good friend RJ. He had been a manager for several years at that point. I asked him for one piece of advice to give me, and he said, “people leave.”
What? “People leave?” Is that it? What sounded oversimplified would resonate with me for years.
After I challenged him on this 2-word statement, he proceeded to detail to me what was behind it. People leave – they quit for whatever reason. In the short-term, it will have some impact on the organization, team, group, etc. (I’ll use “group” from here forward). But in the long-term, it should not, and that’s where the role of a manager comes into play to ensure the continuity of the group.
The more I thought about this, the more sense it made to me. Everything a manager does not only ensures the success of a group, but also prepares for when there changes in its members. From hiring people into it, to managing people and process to understanding what people do, the manager is the central figure that should understand what is going on all the time. How the manager executes can vary, and that’s a whole other topic for another time.
When people leave a group or want to leave a group, in my opinion it is too late to try to keep them. Many times managers spend too much time trying to keep someone and may even make a counteroffer, all in the name of keeping the group as it is. What they don’t realize is the very fact that a person wants to leave has already changed the group dynamic and trying to keep them may do more harm than good. If a person’s decision to leave is final, asking for a long period of time before they actually walk out the door also is not in the group’s best interest. The age-old “2-week notice” is not law, and should not be, and Jim Carlini says it better than I can.
Many managers oversee what work is done and don’t spend a lot of time on managing people. When a person is hired, you are not just bringing in a skillset, but a living, breathing human being with emotions and a life outside of the office. Keeping this in mind, and spending time on getting to know the person and keeping their best interests in mind, will lead to a more successful execution of their skillset. Or at least that is my first-hand experience over the years!Business • (0) Comments • Permalink
I just got in on the early bird registration for DOMAINfest, a conference for the domain name industry. It will be January 21-23 in Hollywood, CA. Many companies, consultants and individuals (commonly referred to as “domainers”) will be there.
As you may have read from my past posts on domain names, this is an area I have great interest in and spend much time working with clients in selecting and managing their domain names. I hope from the tracks and presentations to gain a greater insight into the industry, and meet many of the people in person who write the blogs I read on a regular basis.
And did I say it is in January in southern California? Not that it will be much different in temperature from Chicago!
Please let me know if you or anyone you know are going to DOMAINfest. Early bird registration ends at the end of the week.Business • Domain Names • (0) Comments • Permalink
If you haven’t heard, we have had some rain here in the US Midwest. As well as some flooding, downed power lines and everything that goes with it. And as wet as the last few weeks have been, there is more to come.
Woven into just about news account of the storms are interviews with people who are almost always surprised at the high water levels and damage, many saying they have never seen anything like it in their life. Fortunately these people and everybody else has lived through this as the loss of life has been minimal to none. Going forward, hopefully these experiences will help us prepare for similar future events.
In addition to reviewing my disaster recovery plan, a couple of new thoughts came to mind as a result of the storm that I hadn’t considered before:
Infrastructure – Part of I-94 north of Chicago (known locally as the Edens Expressway) was closed due to flooding caused by a power outage at a pumping station alongside the highway. Outdoor highways have pumping stations?
Transportation – Commuter trains were stopped due to debris and power lines on the train tracks. Other trains had to go extremely slow due to crossing gates being blown off by high winds. Whenever storms come, I have always thought trains were the safest and most reliable way to go.
Communications – Last night I was to attend the monthly meeting of Chicago networking group Circle of Progress. I did not go due to the weather, and I was going to help the organizer as he was dealing with weather issues at home. Ideally canceling the meeting would be the way to go, but the meeting is managed using Meetup.com, and nowhere in a Meetup user’s account is a field to store a phone number or emergency/last minute contact method.
Much of the things in our lives are defined as a reaction to something, whether they are laws or designs. Now I have a few more things to think about and plan for.Business • Diversions • (1) Comments • Permalink