Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Many of you who own and operate your own business have been leasing your space for years and may be thinking about taking the first step to owning your own building. It is a good time to consider purchasing because interest rates are down, many properties are available, and it may be a way for you to build equity in your business. But before you take the leap, there are some important things to think about. You’ve probably already given some consideration to the physical attributes of the property if you’ve actually got one in mind right now. But you may not have thought about the following:

1) Do you have sufficient down payment?

2) Have you completed cash flow projections and included the new financing?

3) Will the new debt put existing operations at risk?

4) Will the property be marketable if you decide to resell in the near future?

5) Will this property work as the business grows?

6) Is the building well maintained or is there a lot of deferred maintenance?

7) Have you taken into account the moving costs and advertising costs associated with a new location?

8) Is the property appropriately zoned?

9) Will you need any environmental permits for the new location?

10) Have you taken into account any long-term costs for repairs/upgrades?

11) Are you working with a reputable commercial agent?

It’s easy to fall in love with a particular piece of property and to overlook some of these points. It is also easy to overlook how your customers may react to a new location and whether parking will be adequate for both your customers and your employees.

Be sure to do your analysis before you sign a purchase agreement and be sure to consider appropriate language for financing and regulatory contingencies. A reputable commercial agent can assist you but you may also want legal counsel before signing on the dotted line.

It’s a good time to be looking at commercial property! If you need assistance with the financial analysis, contact your accountant or use the services of the Small Business Development Center.

This article was written by Susan J. Hoosier, a SBDC Certified Business Advisor with the Longview Small Business Development Center, which is part of the 24 statewide offices of the Washington Small Business Development Center (WSBDC) network. The WSBDC offer in-depth, confidential, and no-cost management advice to businesses within Washington State. To locate your local SBDC advisor please visit the SBDC web site www.wsbdc.or/map or if you or your business is close to the Longview WSBDC office you can contact Susan Hoosier at shoosier@wsu.edu or 360-442-2946.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Open Book Management – Is it for You?

Jack Stack is probably not a house-hold name, but some business owners might have heard his name referenced as the founder of the business philosophy known as Open Book Management. You may be wondering ‘what is Open Book Management’? To quote directly from the Open Book Management website (http://greatgame.com/tour/what-is-it/ ) ‘Open-Book Management is a way of running your company that gets everyone, at all levels of the business as informed, involved and engaged as you are in making the company successful. It’s about employees understanding how profitability is driven, how assets are used, how cash is generated, but most importantly how their day-to-day actions and decisions can make or break your business.’

The next question you may want to ask is ‘why would I want to share the financial information and the decision-making process with my employees?’ There are several reasons you may want to consider doing so:

  • Providing financial details to employees can help encourage out-of-the box ideas for your business.
  • Added employee focus can benefit your bottom line, create efficiencies and maximize each employee’s value.
  • Employees feel a greater sense of ownership and urgency and, in turn, can jump-start innovation and teamwork.
  • If you pay some staff members on a percentage of gross income, financial transparency can help those employees better understand why their efforts directly impact their compensation and help them better understand how they can increase their own reward.

Are there dangers in revealing financial information? Absolutely! If you fail to develop a thoughtful strategy for sharing financial information, fail to educate your employees about understanding the financial information, fail to communicate adequately or have difficulty explaining your financial information, it may result in false expectations and employees fearing for their job security.

If you want to know more about the Open Book Management strategy, you might find ‘The Great Game of Business’, written by Jack Stack, as a good place to start. INC. Magazine has called Jack Stack the ‘smartest strategist in America’ and he was listed by Fortune Small Business Magazine among the ‘top 10 minds in small business’. You might find that he provides inspiration for a new way of doing business!

Article written by Susan Hoosier, Certified Business Advisor and Certified Economic Development Professional, with the Washington Small Business Development Center in Longview, WA 360-442-2946. Susan has owned and operated three businesses and managed a revolving loan fund for a Midwestern Regional Development Commission.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Real Costs of an Accident and Three Ways to Reduce Them!

I recently received a document, from Chris Bowe, Regional Program Manager for the Department of Labor and Industries, describing the real costs of an accident. Just as a reminder to you, I thought I would repeat the information in this column and provide three ways that you can reduce the risk of incurring these costs:

Direct-Insured Costs

• Worker’s compensation premiums
• Medical expenses (hospital, doctors)

Indirect- Uninsured Costs (Out-of-Pocket)

• Time lost from work by injured employee
• Lost efficiency
• Lost time by supervisor
• Training costs for new/replacement workers
• Damage to tools and equipment
• Loss of production
• Damage from accident: fire, water, chemical, explosives, etc.
• Failure to fill orders/meet deadlines
• Overhead costs while work was disrupted
• Other miscellaneous costs

No matter the size of your business, you can access three services, for free, that can help you reduce the risk of injuries, reduce the risk of hiring or retaining high-risk employees and speed the process of getting an injured employee back to work as quickly as possible. Your Worker’s Compensation rates already pay for these services so why not use them. In a nut shell they are as follows:

1) Reduce the risk of an employee getting hurt by requesting a consultation with a safety and health expert (DOSH Consultation) to identify potential safety and health concerns and industrial hygiene issues. Take a proactive approach to avoiding problems by requesting a consultation.

2) Identify other potential risks by asking for a Risk Management Consultation to gain a better understanding of how to manage claims, reduce the risk of hiring the wrong people and otherwise setting your business up for potentially higher premiums.

3) Finally, learn about the Early Return-to-Work Program and how important it is to maintain good communications between your injured employee and the doctor involved in treating the employee. (See the guide at: http://www.lni.wa.gov/IPUB/200-003-000.pdf)

Valuable resources from the Department of Labor and Industries can be accessed on their new website: http://www.lni.wa.gov/

The above information was adapted from materials provided by the Washington Department of Labor and Industries and summarized by Susan Hoosier, Certified Business Advisor and Certified Economic Development Professional, with the Washington Small Business Development Center in Longview, WA 360-442-2946. Susan has owned and operated three businesses and managed a revolving loan fund for a Midwestern Regional Development Commission.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


All of the recent hype around green business opportunities has many business owners scratching their heads. Is this another business fad? Media hype aside, there are good reasons to believe that green business is here to stay for the following reasons:

• Improving your bottom line by reducing waste, saving energy, and increasing efficiency makes practical sense.

• Preventing regulatory problems related to pollution or waste disposal can help businesses avoid financial penalties/fines, training costs, disposal costs and insurance costs.

• As cleaner technologies are being developed, it only makes sense to adopt that technology rather than continuing to work with less efficient current standards.

• Maintaining a competitive edge in an increasingly competitive and regulatory environment will be imperative as the market demands more emphasis on ‘green’ products.

How should a business owner get better educated about becoming a ‘green’ business? If you want to start with some basics, you might want to refer to the following resources:

1. Google ‘Triple Bottom Line’ and become acquainted with some of the terminology that is being used in the ‘green’ world.

2. Check out www.business.gov/start/green-business/green-guide.html to find some practical ways to take steps toward becoming a ‘green’ business.

3. Check out the Green Business Workbook at the Small Business Development Center website: http://www.wsbdc.org/green-business

By taking these three steps, you will find that there are some simple steps that you can take to:

• Improve efficiency

• Reduce waste

• Become a good business citizen and neighbor

• Meet consumer needs and desire for green products.

If you have further questions regarding ‘green’ strategies, contact your local Small Business Development Center for assistance at 360-442-2946.

Article written by Susan Hoosier, Certified Business Advisor and Certified Economic Development Professional, with the Washington Small Business Development Center in Longview, WA 360-442-2946. Susan has owned and operated three businesses and managed a revolving loan fund for a Midwestern Regional Development Commission.

Monday, May 24, 2010


Do you direct all of your energies to getting new customers? If so, you may want to take a closer look at the source of your sales since it is very likely that 80% of your business is coming from repeat customers. If you find that 80% of your business is coming from 20% of your customers, you may want to consider some strategies for staying in touch with those customers! Retaining customers and serving them over their lifetime can mean thousands of dollars for your business.

Some practical ways to develop action around customer retention strategies might include some of the following steps:

1) Communicate with your existing customers on a regular basis.

2) Show your appreciation for their business and nurture customer loyalty

3)Look for ways to build trust between your business and your customers

4)Don’t make it easy for your customers to switch to the competition

5)Expand product lines to provide more products or services for your customers

6) Anticipate the changing needs of your customers ( selling other parts of your line to the same customers) and up-selling (selling more per order) to increase the average sale to each customer.

If you’ve lost customers, you may want to develop some strategies for getting them back. In order to implement a strategy, you need to have a database of previous customers. So, if you don’t keep a database, it stands to reason that that should be the first step in your strategy: Develop a database!

Next, you need to remind them about your business and tell them you want them back! However, you may first need to find out why they stopped coming to your place of business and, if you failed to meet their expectations, you need to make it right.

You’ve already invested a lot of money in the customers you retain and the customers you have lost. For that reason alone, putting some additional energy into retaining customers, and reactivating lost customers, makes sense for your business.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


The number ‘three’ has great significance for writers, story tellers and public speakers. According to some sources, the ‘power of three’ is a mystical number that is used for telling a fairy tale (three bears, three little pigs, etc.) to identifying the basic structure of life (carbohydrates, protein, fat). Speakers are encouraged to use three thoughts to convey completeness, wholeness, roundness.

I did some research recently on this topic as a result of hearing someone speak about the importance of using ‘odd’ numbers in pricing products and describing products. For example, Listerine kills 99% of germs instead of 100%.

What does this have to do with your business? It occurs to me that I often overwhelm my business clients with too much information and too many steps to complete before our next meeting is scheduled. As a business owner, I also remember feeling overwhelm by the amount of information that I needed to absorb to feel comfortable with the financial, operational, and regulatory issues of my business. If we want to make progress toward a specific goal, it would make a great deal of sense to simplify the process and make it more manageable by setting one goal in each of these areas.

Under each goal, you might consider listing three strategies you intend to use and under each strategy, list three actions (actions link your strategy to operations) you intend to take. Identify how you intend to quantify and measure performance and put a time limit on it. Each goal needs to meet the SMART criteria, i.e. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time Bound.
By using the Power of Three in this way, the task becomes more manageable, everyone stays more focused and things get done!! There is nothing more satisfying than reaching goals you have set for your business.

Some of you might be saying to yourself ‘I have no time to set goals or go through this process. I’ve got too much to do!’ I would suggest to you that you might need to step back from your business and use the power of three by setting some goals that give you perspective in other areas of your life. A business cannot be run very effectively, for very long if you ‘run out of gas’ on a personal level and your business will suffer if you fail to set goals and reach them.

Article written by Susan Hoosier, Certified Business Advisor and Certified Economic Development Professional, with the Washington Small Business Development Center in Longview, WA 360-442-2946. Susan has owned and operated three businesses and managed a revolving loan fund for a Midwestern Regional Development Commission.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

There Is More to Your Business than the Finances!

There are many ways to define success in the business world but most small business owners tend to look at financial statements and key financial ratios to determine how well they are doing. While it is important to understand your financial statements, and to use them as a management tool, there are equally important pieces of information that you may want to measure to determine overall success.

In the early 1990s, Harvard University professor Robert Kaplan developed the Balanced Scorecard as a means of measuring key success factors that cover not only the financial aspects of the business but it also measures success in three other components of a business: The customer component, the internal business processes component and the learning and growth component. Professor Kaplan proposed that each of these components should be measured, just as you might measure your financial status, by using metrics you have identified as the key drivers in your business. After all, when you get an annual physical exam, the doctor doesn’t just listen to your heart beat, he/she looks at the whole body to determine overall health. Why should your business be any different?

You can’t generate a profit over the long haul if you do not have a good product or if you frustrate and drive off customers and employees. While the financial analysis of your business may give you clues of something else happening, the financial statements won’t tell you why customers are being driven away.

However, if your business can identify key drivers that measure customer satisfaction, you can begin gathering metrics that will tell you whether you have loyal, repeat customers. For example, you may want to track the gains and losses of customers, complaints, market share relative to competitors and repeat business. You may have difficulty implementing a means of measuring your success in this area if you do not maintain a customer tracking system so your first step might be implementing such a system.

Satisfied customers are the result of producing reliable and consistent products and services. For this reason, you also want to measure your internal processes to determine if there is any way to improve on your cycle time for key processes, to reduce delivery mistakes, to reduce recalls, or to improve safety during production.

Finally, your company’s infrastructure needs to undergird the strategies and goals that you quantify in the financial, customer and internal components mentioned above. This means that you need to develop a strategy and a means of measuring the levels of knowledge achieved through training and education. You might also want to measure the increased capacity that you might gain from improvements to technology and to the work environment.

If you want to do a little reading about some of these concepts, you may want to pick up ‘Keeping Score’ by Mark Graham Brown. Needless to say, the overall health of your business is dependent on a number of factors. The guiding principle behind the Balance Scorecard approach is ‘what gets measured gets done’. Research suggests that those companies that measure their performance out-perform those that do not, so you may want to give some serious thought to developing metrics for your business that will help you meet your business goals.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Asking for a Loan? Common Mistakes Made by Businesses

Many business owners have given up asking their lender for money these days. Perhaps they have already been told ‘no’ more than once and they cannot get a grasp on how to move forward as a business without being able to access capital. I would like to suggest that there are some very positive steps that any business can take that will not only improve the business’s financial position, but will help any business move to a more bankable position:

1.) Assuming that your business has profits, quit taking all of the profits out of your business! You cannot grow a business without profits. Your banker knows that and so should you.

2.) If you are not profitable, find out why. If you don’t know how to analyze your financial information get help! Contact your accountant or your business adviser if you have one on retainer. You can also access services through your local Small Business Development Center. Profit Mastery is a business finance educational program that you can access through the Small Business Development Center and it provides down-to-earth financial management tools that any business owner can use.

3.) Analyze your customer base and begin developing a customer relationship management system. You have ‘gold’ in your customer information and ‘mining’ that gold can add to your bottom line. Since 80% of your business likely comes from 20% of your customers, find out everything that you can about those customers and then develop a strategy to find more of them!

4.) Make sure your financial information is accurate, that you review it regularly and that you know which items could be a red flag for your lender. For example, if you find out that your Balance Sheet reflects negative retained earnings you should know that your lender will not be pleased. For that reason, you may want to go back to point number 1) and stop taking all the profits out of your business!

5.) Build a strategy for success. This takes planning and if you need to have someone help you through the planning process contact the Small Business Development Center. Building a strategy takes a lot of thought. I recently came across the following quote which sums up, very succinctly, why the typical business owner may have difficulty developing a strategy for their business:

“There is no labor from which most people shrink as they do from that of sustained and consecutive thought; it is the hardest work in the world.” Wallace D. Wattles
If you find it challenging to stay focused on the planning process, find an adviser to help you through the planning process. Again, this could be your accountant, a business consultant or the Small Business Development Center.

I have another list, in my office, which is specific to documentation requirements for developing a loan package. I use that list whenever I work with clients to help them develop a loan proposal. But presenting a loan proposal to your lender, before you lay the foundation for success, is like putting the cart before the horse.

If you need assistance contact your local Small Business Development Center for confidential, no-cost services: 360-442-2946 or http://lowercolumbia.edu/smallbus
Article written by Susan Hoosier, Certified Business Adviser and Certified Economic Development Professional, with the Washington Small Business Development Center in Longview, WA 360-442-2946. Susan has owned and operated three businesses and managed a revolving loan fund for a Midwestern Regional Development Commission.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Revisiting Your Credit Strategy

Monitoring and understanding your cash flow is probably one of the most critical aspects of business management. Cash flow has always been important to businesses, but many business owners have recently been reminded of this in a very unpleasant fashion; i.e. the cancellation or reduction of a vital credit line.

Business owners typically concentrate their efforts on year-end tax planning and strategizing for increased sales in the coming year. It is rare, in the planning process, to see businesses pay equal attention to planning for cash flow by reviewing the business’ credit strategy (the way that bills are paid and the way in which you receive payments for goods and services that are sold).

Following are some tips on things to consider when you review your credit strategy:
  • Think twice about paying early on your business debts since you may use up cash reserves that may be critical for survival.
  • You may need to consider asking your customers for more financial information to determine whether they have the capacity to pay for goods and services purchased on account.
  • You may need to reconsider the length of time that you are allowing your customers to pay on their accounts or you may need to consider asking for a larger deposit or a greater percentage of the total cost of a project to reduce the risk of bad debts.
  • Consider taking credit cards, if you are not doing so already, since the banks’ merchant fees may be a small price to pay for not worrying about collecting from some of your customers. It may be more important for you to have the cash in the bank!
  • Use the maximum time allowable to pay your suppliers on account unless you will lose the benefit of a discount.
  • The economy is still tight, funding is tough to find, so do not assume that your existing strategy will continue to work for you. Instead, be proactive about addressing any policies that might increase your risk for bad debts.
  • Clean up your financial statements, strengthen your equity position in your business, and continually monitor your cash flow position.

If you need assistance in developing a credit strategy or assistance in analyzing your cash flow, contact your local Small Business Development Center for confidential, no-cost services: 360-442-2946 or http://lowercolumbia.edu/smallbus

Article written by Susan Hoosier, Certified Business Advisor and Certified Economic Development Professional, with the Washington Small Business Development Center in Longview, WA 360-442-2946. Susan has owned and operated three businesses and managed a revolving loan fund for a Midwestern Regional Development Commission.