Posts Tagged ‘Wall Street Journal’

Price of Friendship

September 26, 2014

Over the years, I have been approached by family and friends to loan money.  Being generous in nature, I usually have made the loan.  Typically there was a signed legal document. In rare circumstances, I relied solely on the personal integrity of the borrower.  To date, not a single one of those people has ever repaid the loan made.  

Most recently, and the prompt of this post, is the story of J’Amy Owens.  If you Google her name, you will find countless hits noting her as a “retail guru”, a “Diva of Retail” and currently a “Meat Activist” and the CEO of a publicly traded company, Bill the Butcher.  She once graced the cover of Inc. Magazine under the headline “Sales Guru to the Stars”.  Even such illustrious credentials does not preclude one from being a deadbeat.

With the same Google search you will also find numerous mentions of her name in association with lawsuits between business partners, former business partners and former spouses.  There is even a lengthy report on RipoffReport from a retail consulting customer who describes being “ripped off” by J’Amy Owens.

The fact that past and ongoing relationships with J’Amy Owens seem to result in some sort of legal action being taken against her should have been a warning to me.  However, my relationship and loan to J’Amy predates her string of legal troubles.  In fact, it was at the start of these many legal battles that she called me pleading for a loan to pay her attorneys.  I viewed her as both a friend and someone who has always managed to earn a good living and therefore likely to be able to repay the debt.  So I foolishly wrote 2 checks, each in the amount of $25,000 to her law firm for her benefit.

To be fair, she did repay a total of $10,000 of the $50,000 loaned.  She has never failed to acknowledge the debt, in fact, I have dozens of effusive emails with expressions of gratitude and indebtedness such as these:

Everyone got paid (783k!) before you, my gracious highness of patience.

I want you to make money on this loan, and not feel bad, so please do NOT think I am going to do anyrhing but pay you WHATEVER YOU WANT.”

“I am seriously past due with you on all accounts and would like to meet over a bottle of something wonderful (my treat) and give you an update.

Your investment (loan of grace and mercy) is ridiculously embarrassingly- in- the- rears at this point but you should know that even though it is diliquent, it is NOT something needing writng off…….as I am occassionally pitiful but NOT a diliquent.”

Yes, she lives in a lovely apartment according to this Jolkona article.  Yes, she is proudly the CEO of a publicly traded company, Bill the Butcher, as you can see in this YouTube video– yet despite these emails and many more in the same vein, she still owes me $40,000 plus reasonable interest totally about $66,000.  When I actively began contacting her to set up a repayment plan, her silence has been deafening.  Emails ignored.  Facebook messages ignored.  LinkedIn message ignored.  Phone calls to her cell phone ignored.  Snail mail letter ignored.  Letter hand delivered via a process server from my attorney also ignored.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy reason for sharing this is to serve as a warning to others – NEVER loan money to family or friends.  You are not doing them a favor, no matter how much it seems true in the immediate.  No matter how grateful they seem at the time, repaying a debt is never a high priority and from my experience – it doesn’t happen.  Even if you have a signed, legal agreement; do you want to be in the position of suing a loved one?  Even a good job and a so called ethical reputation are no guarantee of repayment.  If you feel moved to “loan” money to those you love and value, consider it a gift.  Make it clear up front that it is a gift and never mention it again.  That’s the only hope of preserving a relationship.

As for me, I’ve learned all too well the high price of friendship. 

Preparing for Disaster

May 22, 2013

The recent tornadoes in Moore, Oklahoma have dominated the news and offers a reminder to all business people that disasters can – and do – happen.  Even if you are not in “tornado alley”, weather can wreak all sorts of havoc making it difficult, if not impossible, to do business.

Is your business ready to quickly recover from a disaster?  A recent Wall Street Journal article featured the recovery program of the Waffle House.  Yes, the Waffle House, home of hash browns throughout the South is prepared for disasters and can serve as a model for all small businesses.  You may not care about being able to serve eggs but the ability to be “back up and running” quickly after a disaster is a worthy goal for all businesses. 

What would you need to do business tomorrow?  Depending on the nature of your business, the answer may vary.  For many entrepreneurs, the answer is “my data”.  If that’s true for you, what steps have you taken to be sure you will be able to access your data tomorrow?

There are online backup services such as Carbonite which are widely available at modest costs which do automatic backups of your data and provide you with access to your files from anywhere.  The new app for your smartphone comes in handy even if you are just out of town and need to access something on your office computer.  Plus it backs up everything stored on your phone too, offers an option to “lock” a lost phone or even to “wipe” it should it be stolen!   Disasters that impact access to your data can be the result of weather, human error or even equipment failure.  Are you prepared to recover quickly?

What else do you need to do business?  Is there a reasonable measure you can take to insure you will have what you need when disaster strikes?  Spend some time discussing a disaster plan with your team.

Even if you never suffer a large scale natural disaster, over time you are likely to experience everything from power outages to a broken pipe type flood to a break in or vandalism.  Simple solutions such as clearly labeling the water shut-off valve and making sure all your team members know where to find it can save your business from a crippling disaster.

Take this opportunity to talk to your business insurance agent as well.  Get a rate quote on business interruption insurance.  Weigh the cost against the risks and decide if it’s right for your business.

Long term success in business has a lot to do with the ability to weather storms, both literal and figurative.   Be sure your business is ready.

Tweet This!

May 1, 2013

At a recent speech, I was asked: “As a business person, a manager or supervisor within a company, do you really NEED Twitter?”  Of course not. Should you use it anyway?  I think so and here’s why:

Twitter and texting are preferable over e-mail or phone calls among recent college graduates and others in the “under 30” age group.  Companies are starting to post jobs via Twitter.  As more and more of these younger workers become your direct reports – and perhaps even your boss – being comfortable with their preferred medium is important.  Staying current with technology makes you seem younger and more critically,  relevant in our ever changing world.

120606094003-twitter-logo-change-story-topSo how do you “use Twitter” that isn’t a foolish waste of time for a busy professional?  

First, download the free app from your phone’s app store.  If you still are using a flip-phone or other “non-smart” phone, go back and read the sentence about staying current with technology.

I treat Twitter as the “crawl” on the bottom of the screen fox-news-logoof my favorite cable news channel.  Personally I “follow” a couple of general news sources, one local and one national.  Your favorite news television channels all have Twitter too; Fox News, CNN, NPR, ABC and all the rest.  Same for your local news channels.  Add one of those to stay on top of local news and events.

I live in West Seattle and the West Seattle Blog is the consummate source for everything happening in my neighborhood.  They post road closures due to both construction and accidents, crime, local events and even lost pets.  If you neighborhood or homeowners association has Twitter, you might want to add them to your list.

Next I’d add business publications.  Mine is the Wall Street Journal but also their All Things Digital.  I meant what I said about keeping current with technology.  I may not have use for it all right now, but I still want to know it exists and for what purpose.

Your industry may have a news source.  If they Tweet, you may find keeping up with the latest via these 140 character tidbits easier than the pile of trade journals on the corner of your desk.

alaska_logoDo you travel a lot either personally or on business?  Your favorite airline has Twitter.  So does the USA Today Travel section and many others.  Those can provide timely updates on airport delays as well as special deals.

Then, have some fun.  If that means following Kim Kardashian,Lit Lounge I won’t judge.  For me, it’s comedian Dennis Miller, OMG Facts, Snoqualmie Casino (their cigar Lit Lounge for my hubby), a local comedy club to see who is coming soon as well as a couple of other entertaining sources.

You can follow your favorite authors for updates on their newest books.  Brad Thor writes great thrillers and is a master at branding.  His “tweets” are as alarming in 140 characters as his books are in 300 pages!

If someone tweets more than you like or you don’t like the nature of their tweets, you can always delete them from who you “follow”.  By the same token, if you find your custom news feed (that’s what I use Twitter for) is missing something, ask yourself where you typically go to get that missing component and see if they have a Twitter account, then add it.

Once you have it all set up (less than 30 minutes) you can open the app anytime you have a few minutes and get caught up on the world and everything that’s important to you.  The 140 character limitations of Twitter give you just enough information without overloading you or taking too much time.

I check Twitter when I’m meeting someone and I arrive a few minutes ahead of them, when I’m waiting my turn in line for anything, when I’m having lunch alone – anytime I don’t have enough time to get into something more involved (like email or a book) but when I have a few minutes.

Then when your younger colleague apologizes for your wait you can just say “No worries, I was just checking Twitter”.  Sure, they may look at your graying temples or receeding hairline and be a little surprised but hey, you still have a few surprises left in you, don’t you? 

Color Me Interested

March 13, 2013

When I started my business and was developing the logo, SCUSAI started with the neon sign maker.  Knowing I had a limited budget to devote to critical expenses such as advertising,  I needed the signs on my stores to serve as much of an advertising beacon as possible.  My question; what colors and font styles are most legible from the greatest distance?   The answer gave me my primary color and font used in the Sleep Country USA logo later designed by an artist at my local newspaper.

Years ago I had read the most universally wearable and desirable color to women around the world regardless of age or skin tone was the robin’s egg blue used by Tiffany & Co.  As a result, when choosing a gift for a woman I may not know very well, I will pick something in this iconic shade of turquoise blue.

Beyond that, I had not given much thought to how color influences decisions or even how color could enhance a customer’s experience.  A brief tidbit in the Wall Street Journal in January cited a study which found people who drank hot cocoa from an orange or cream mug found it more desirable than those drinking the exact same cocoa from a white or red mug.

That peaked my interest.  Could we really enhance a customer’s experience simply by the colors we choose?  Not an isolated incident, the same researchers found the strawberry mousse was described as “sweeter and more intense” when served on a white plate over a black one.  A valuable piece of information for restaurants, coffee shops, caterers and even hostesses who want to wow guests!

Jan McLaughlin is a professional speaker and an expert in spoken, written and visual communication.  Color was one of the critical design elements she covered in a seminar on visual communication recently given to attendees of the NSA-NW Speakers Academy.

Color-for-influenc-infographColor Matters has a wealth of information on color and how it influences our decisions.  My Social Media posted a great quick reference guide using Color Matters research that summarizes how different groups react to various colors.  Use this guide to be sure the color you are choosing helps convey your message effectively.

We all have to select colors many times in countless areas of our business from logo and branding to displays to merchandise to desk accessories.   Why not chose colors that help us communicate effectively, enhance customer experience and accomplish our goals?  

Scrooge’s Holiday Party

December 5, 2012

After several years of no holiday parties, many companies  are opting to celebrate again, just not at previous levels.  A recent blog in the Wall Street Journal details why.  If the economy has taken a toll on your business, how can you share the spirit of the season in a cost effective way?

Holiday LunchLunch is always cheaper than dinner for a variety of reasons.  Restaurants offer sandwiches, soups and salads as meals for lunch rather than steaks and chops so the meal itself costs less.  There’s no expectation to bring a spouse or significant other to lunch. Same with alcohol.

Reserve a section of a local restaurant for your holiday lunch.  You can even work with the restaurant ahead of time and print special menus on your office printer with a limited selection and no prices.  Depending on the size of your group, this can help the restaurant in terms of preparation and keep your party on budget.

No good restaurants near your office?  Consider catering.  There are lots of low cost options to include hip food trucks you can book for your parking lot.  BBQ places often also offer lower cost catering and popular menus.

Don’t overlook the Costco or other warehouse club option.  Look in the deli and at your neighborhood grocery store for a catering menu.

I’m not a big proponent of pot lucks though that is an inexpensive option.  I feel everyoneHoney Ham has enough to do at the holidays without having to worry about a covered dish for the office party.  If you have people in favor, at least spring for a Honey Baked ham or turkey for the entree.  Again, on line shopping makes this easy even if there are no locations near you.

TreatsCoffee, tea and assorted holiday desserts and treats can make for a low cost mid-afternoon “Holiday Tea”.

When you are all together, let the team know that even though business has been challenging, you didn’t want to miss the chance to say thank you for their dedication and hard work.  Raise a glass (soft drinks work fine) to a brighter future ahead. 

Picture Worth a Thousand Words

August 8, 2012

Major companies spend a fortune on graphics and photos.   The work of a talented photographer can make all the difference whether you are trying to sell a house, a product, services or even get a date.

Professional photographers can be expensive but doing it yourself may not be the best answer for your business.  This article from the Wall Street Journal points out very clearly that you may not even know how much bad photos are costing you in terms of lost opportunities.

Do the photos on your website, your Facebook or other social media sites represent you, your business, your products and services well?  Even if you just sell products on eBay, a great photo can make all the difference.

Check with your suppliers.  Before you settle for a photo you take yourself, ask your suppliers if they have commercially done photos available for use on your website.  As one of their outlets, typically they will make these available at no cost because they want their products represented well.

Some businesses sell an ever changing inventory of products – some limited inventory and relatively low cost.  In these scenarios, hiring a professional photographer may be prohibitive.  For small items, consider investing in a table top photo studio.  Kits with backgrounds, lights and tripod for your point and shoot camera are available for a small, (under $50) one-time investment.  Check stores such as Overstock.com and Amazon.com.

Take a photography class.  Food photographer, Clare Barboza offers workshops in Seattle and other cities across the country on natural light food photography. If you have a restaurant, catering business, sell baked goods, wines, flowers or gourmet food products, a specialty class can be a great investment.

Buy stock photos.  If you are just trying to convey a concept such as a service like accounting or housekeeping, you may not need a personal photo.  Often you can buy a stock photo to use on your website.  Shutterstock.com has a wide variety.  We did a “bulk purchase” where we could download a number of photos over a period of time for a flat rate and many of those photos appear in this blog.

Contact your local Chamber of Commerce or other small business groups in your area.  They will likely know a local photographer you can work with.  Sometimes they even offer low cost “head shots” at one of their meetings.  In these cases, a photographer sets up the background and lighting to  shoot business appropriate digital photos you can use on your website and social media professional pages.

Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words.  Be sure what it says about you and your business HELPS rather than HURTS your professional image.

 

 

Have Resume’ Will Travel

August 1, 2012

Two weeks ago at a cocktail party on our deck, one of our friends was debating her next steps as she stood at a crossroad in life.  She, like many Americans, had just lost a job she had held for over a decade.  She was single and owned a home here in the Seattle area but was frustrated by the challenges of finding a new job.  As the guests probed, it became clear that she wasn’t “in love with” Seattle, in fact, the weather gets her down (here, here!).  She has family in Scottsdale and perhaps this is really an opportunity to make a change.    She was enthusiastically cheered by everyone and connections were offered to help make her transition smoother, should she ultimately choose to go.

What about you?  Are you where you want to be?  Is this the best place for your career or business?  Or is it the “safe” place because it’s what you know?

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, it was shown that those who are willing to relocate ultimately make more money and advance their careers.  Sometimes it’s money that holds us back but in truth, relocation can be as inexpensive as loading your car up with what is truly precious to you and driving into the sunset.  Other times it’s the safety net of family and friends that keeps us rooted in place.  Mostly though, it’s fear.  Fear of the unknown.

I have moved 3 times – not houses, cities.  First I moved from Kansas City where I was born and raised to Dallas, Texas when the frigid winters of the Midwest finally got to me.  Next I moved to south Florida (briefly) and ultimately to Seattle where I have been for the past 20 years.  Not a big “moving” history.

However, when I moved to Dallas, I knew exactly 3 people and two were a couple!  I worked for a large international company and requested a transfer.  It took several months for an opportunity to become available but when it did, a Kansas City friend towed a small U-Haul trailer behind his vehicle and I drove my car to make the move.

Moving to Seattle was a business decision.  It was a market identified by my prospective suppliers as being “under retailed” and represented a better opportunity for my new business (Sleep Country USA) to be successful.

If you are looking for a job, or considering starting your own business, are you in the place that gives YOU the best opportunity for success?  If not here, then where?  Do your research to find out where the job market or business climate is best suited for your skills.  Tap your network to see who has contacts in the most likely markets.  Get in your car and go visit those areas and don’t view the city as a tourist, but rather as a resident.

Do you have a family member you can stay with there for a couple of weeks?  I house sat for the parents of a woman I knew when I was checking out the market in Seattle prior to moving here.  I had never met them but I was a friend of their daughter and they needed someone to water the plants and bring in the mail.

Even in this economy, there are opportunities out there.  Sometimes they are in your NEW backyard – not your current one.  Change, as scary as it is, is also an adventure, a chance to grow and more important, a chance to SUCCEED.

Dissecting a Problem

February 15, 2012

How do you solve problems in your business?  For example, if you regularly receive complaints from customers that merchandise arrived late, do you go talk to the head of shipping or delivery?  What does that person do?  Do they talk to the team?  What do they say?  Too many business people simply chastise the staff with no real direction on how to improve the situation.

Problem solving starts with careful analysis of every step of the process.  A great example can be found in the detailed overhall Alaska Airlines undertook in 2007 to improve reliability.  In January, the Wall Street Journal cited their efforts and applauded their results.  Here is that portion of the article:

 

“The carrier has set internal standards: There are 50 different check points on a timeline for each departure, with data collected on each one. Flight attendants have to be on board 45 minutes before scheduled departure; customer-service agents board the first passenger 40 minutes before departure, and 90% of passengers need to be boarded 10 minutes before departure. What time the fuel truck hooks up and what time it disconnects its hose are measured. When flights arrive, the time the belt-loader pulls up to the plane is tracked. The cargo door is supposed to be opened three minutes after arrival; the first bag needs to be dropped on the carousel before 15 minutes after arrival.

“There are so many moving parts. You just can’t tell people to get the airplane out on time,” said Ben Minicucci, Alaska’s chief operating officer.”

What problem do you need to solve in your business?  Break the process down step by step and identify the bottlenecks.  Do you have a vendor who consistently ships late?   If working with them on improving delivery isn’t effective you will either need to build in more time to your process to allow for their tardiness or find another supplier.  Does a project get stalled on the desk of someone who often works out of the office?  Is there a way to use technology to get their sign-off even remotely?  Do you have team members who need training in order to work more efficiently?

Setting measurable goals for each step of the process is the secret to improving performance.  Improved performance – being able to tout measured consistency –  is a competitive advantage.  It can also improve not only productivity but profitability as well.  Breaking a process down into the various components makes a big problem manageable.

In the Face of Disaster

September 7, 2011

Hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires, days of power outages – the news is filled with natural disasters and the results.  While the media usually keeps their focus on the individuals who have lost their homes and emergency services, businesses are also impacted in each of these situations.

Is your business ready to quickly recover from a disaster?  A recent Wall Street Journal article featured the recovery program of the Waffle House.  Yes, the Waffle House, home of hash browns throughout the South is prepared for disasters and can serve as a model for all small businesses.  You may not care about being able to serve eggs but the ability to be “back up and running” quickly after a disaster is a worthy goal for all businesses. 

What would you need to do business tomorrow?  Depending on the nature of your business, the answer may vary.  For many entrepreneurs, the answer is “my data”.  If that’s true for you, what steps have you taken to be sure you will be able to access your data tomorrow?

There are online backup services such as Carbonite which are widely available at modest costs which do automatic backups of your data and provide you with access to your files from anywhere.  That means if the power is out in the area of your office, you can still access your data from a computer in an internet cafe, on your notebook or even your smartphone.  Disasters that impact access to your data can be the result of weather, human error or even equipment failure.  Are you prepared to recover quickly?

What else do you need to do business?  Is there a reasonable measure you can take to insure you will have what you need when disaster strikes?  Spend some time discussing a disaster plan with your team.

Even if you never suffer a large scale natural disaster, over time you are likely to experience everything from power outages to a broken pipe type flood to a break in or vandalism.  Simple solutions such as clearly labeling the water shut-off valve and making sure all your team members know where to find it can save your business from a crippling disaster.

Take this opportunity to talk to your business insurance agent as well.  Get a rate quote on business interruption insurance.  Weigh the cost against the risks and decide if it’s right for your business.

Long term success in business has a lot to do with the ability to weather storms, both literal and figurative.   Be sure your business is ready.

Get Ready

July 27, 2011

Phyllis Campbell was sharing words of wisdom from her mentors and said one frequently said “Get ready.”  It begs the question, “Get ready for what?”  The answer, “Anything”.

Sounds like a great idea, but how does one get ready for “anything”?  

The answer is to learn as much as you can from as many varied sources as you can.  Don’t worry, you don’t have to do this over the next 48 hours, rather it’s a long term project which should span both your career and your lifetime.

Throughout my career, I’ve worked for a temp agency, as a purchasing agent for a custom kitchen remodeling firm, a secretary then salesperson for an international company and ultimately started, built and sold my own business.  Along the way I did a wide variety of tasks which gave me insights into both my personal strengths and weaknesses.  

You can expand your career without changing jobs by volunteering to work on projects outside your normal job description.  While challenging, these are growth opportunities.  You get to work with people outside your usual sphere, develop new skills and raise your profile within the organization.

Even now, at least once a month, I attend some sort of business event.  It can be a  Chamber of Commerce program, a networking event, a workshop for professional speakers like myself or an after-hours meet and greet with other entrepreneurs.  I prefer events where there is a speaker, panel or workshop because I always learn something new.

Daily I read the Wall Street Journal on line.  Not just the “news”, but read the quirky stories on the bottomof the front page.  I read tidbits about new technology from a review on Toshiba’s new tablet to the valuation on Facebook.  The Life & Culture section has great ideas for low-stress entertaining, travel as well as reviews of new books, movies and plays.

In our bathroom, there are a variety of magazines from Readers Digest to “O” to National Geographic Traveler.   This “library” is a great place to keep and peruse industry or trade publications as well.

We are season ticket holders for a two live theaters in the area as well as a distinguished speaker series in California.  You might see us in the audience of a comedy club or “twisted flicks”.

From time to time there will be a class that peaks my interest on topics ranging from ballroom dancing to mosaics to pairing food and wines.

This is about more than filling the blank spaces on your calendar.  It’s about getting out and getting involved.  Getting out of your office – out of your neighborhood – out of your rut – out of your comfort zone.  It’s when you get out and get involved that you learn what you need to succeed and  meet the people who will help you do so.

Are you ready?  If not, start “getting ready” today!


%d bloggers like this: