Learning From Others’ Mistakes

I hate to do two computer-related posts in a row, but this one’s important.  Last night my PC at home went haywire.  It froze and when I re-booted it, I got an error message telling me it can’t find the operating system.

After checking several troubleshooting web sites, the consensus seems to be that the hard drive is shot! If that’s true, then all the information on the drive is probably gone, about five years worth of letters, emails, pictures, and other stuff.  I recently bought the software to back the thing up, but hadn’t gotten around to doing it yet.

I plan to spend another enjoyable evening trying to coax the monster back to life.  If I’m fortunate enough to get it working, the first thing I’ll do is back everything up.

If you haven’t backed up your hard drive recently (or ever), stop reading this NOW and do it!  If you have two computers, back them both up!   If you don’t have backup software, get in your car and drive over to the computer store and buy it.  Make sure you have enough CDs or DVDs or whatever media you plan to use and do a full backup before you go to bed tonight.  You may never need the backup, but if you do, I promise you you’ll be glad you have it.

Microsoft Outlook

Thanks to Brenda Powers of our Computer Help Desk for the following article, which was printed in our Tacony Newsletter:

When you open Outlook, is it slow to respond?  Does it seem like it takes forever for your email to Send/Receive?

Are you aware that there is a size limit for Outlook?  It doesn’t matter how big your hard drive is–Microsoft sets a size limitation of 2 GB for Outlook’s pst file.

What is a pst file?  Glad you asked.  this is the file where all of your Outlook data is stored– InBox, Sent, Calendar & Contacts.  This file can grow exceedingly large as more and more data is accumulated.  Exceeding the size limit can potentially lead to data corruption and loss.  What’s worse is Outlook doesn’t give you a warning when you approach the size limit.Outlook_today_properties_1

Here’s the way to check the size of your Outlook data file:

  • Right click on Outlook Today
  • Click on Properties
  • Click on Folder Size
  • Total Size is the size of your Outlook pst file. 
  • (The size is shown in KB (kilobytes)  A gigabyte is a thousand thousand kilobytes.  So, 2 gigabytes would be 2,000,000 kilobytes)

Even though the limit is 2 GB, we have seen problems once it starts reaching 1.4 GB, so you don’t want to wait until you reach 2GB.  If you’re getting close to your size limitation, you can start with deleting items from your Sent and Deleted folders.  Are you aware that when you delete items from Sent that they go to the Deleted file?  This is a good start to cleaning up some of your email! 

After you have deleted everything you can, then do the following:

  • Right click on Outlook Today
  • Click on Properties
  • Click on Advanced
  • Click on Compact Now.  (It will say "Compacting" until it’s completed.)
  • No go back and check the size of your Outlook Today file again.

If the file is still too big, there are several options for reducing its size including creating another pst file or burning old emails to a CD.  There is more information on backing up pst files in the Outlook Help menu and on Microsoft’s web site.

I followed these directions and reduced my pst file by more than half.

Changing the Rules

John Wyckoff is a marketing consultant, sales trainer, author and
motivational speaker.  In a one hour interview with Small Business Trends Radio, he discusses how to beat the big box stores by changing the rules.  You can download the presentation and listen to it at your convenience on your laptop or mp3 player.

He touches on a variety of topics and strategies to help you compete.  For example, did you know that women have a tendency to look down while they’re shopping but that men look up?  Since men are more likely to be impulse shoppers, grocery stores put impulse items (snacks, junk food, beer) on the higher shelves.  Another example is magazines, where sales were increased in a number of airports by putting the men’s magazines up high and the women’s magazines down low.

The 60 minute program has several commercials, including one for Wyckoff’s book, Mind Your Own Business.  But the content is good and I’d never deny someone the opportunity to try to sell me something.  If you pick up just one good idea, it will be an hour well spent. Check it out!

By the way, there’s a lot of other good stuff on the Small Business Trends Radio web site.

Working Hours

In a telephone survey of 300 leaders of companies with 20 or fewer employees, researchers have learned that small business owners "reported long hours, diminished vacation, and an ever-blurring line separating work from time-off."

The survey was done on behalf of Staples, the office-supply chain.  In a press release, dated today (1/08/07), they breathlessly report that "Time is a critical resource for companies of all sizes, but it’s of even greater importance to small business managers, who possess a larger stake in their company’s success and often lack the support infrastructure of bigger businesses."  That’s according to John Giusti, vice president of Staples Business Delivery, the company’s division which specializes in small business sales.

Here’s a link to the press release that you can read if you have time.  If you don’t have time (and according to the survey you probably don’t), I’ll give you the short version. 

  • You work way more than forty hours per week. 
  • Work intrudes on your "personal" time.
  • The younger you are and the fewer employees you have, the more hours you’re likely to work.

The press release goes on to promote the company as the best place for small businesses to buy their office  products and services.

I hope Staples didn’t spend a ton of money on this survey since the "results" are common knowledge to anyone who owns a small business, who has ever owned or worked in a small business, or who has ever worked with small business.

The irony of the whole thing is that much of the extra time put in by small retail business owners is devoted to competing with big box retailers.  Staples was one of the original big box chains and even brags about it in the press release:  "Staples, Inc. invented the office superstore concept in 1986 and today is the world’s largest office products company."  2005 sales were $16.1 billion.  They operate more than 1,800 stores.

I wonder how many office supply stores were included in the survey?

More Positive PR for Your Favorite Manufacturer

Our local daily paper, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, had a nice article today about our St. James manufacturing plant.  The writer mentions our one millionth vacuum milestone, our recent acquisition of Truvox International, and our planned $3.2 million St. James expansion. 

While the article is primarily focused on our vacuum cleaner business, the writer’s comment that "a search of mass merchants such as Wal-Mart and Target stores will turn up no Tacony products…" holds true for all of our protected lines. 

You can read the entire article article here.

Your Strategic Plan

This is the eighteenth, and final,  (hold your applause) installment in our series based on Challenges of the
Future: The Rebirth of Small Independent Retail in America
, a 64 page white paper by Jack Stanyon, underwritten by the George H. Baum
Community Charitable Trust, the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, and the
National Retail Federation Foundation. 

Over the course of this series we’ve looked at the eight trends and six challenges facing retailers according to Stanyon.  This time we’re looking at challenge #6, the limitation of management skills and capabilities. 

Stanyon isn’t implying, and I’m not either, that independent retailers lack management skill.  What he is saying is that the increasing pace of change (challenge #3) is making it hard for all of us to keep up.  He writes, "The increasing complexity of business and the speed of change place an increasing premium on financial knowledge, strategic planning, and leadership.  This is a critical area of focus for small independents because there is no longer the kind of margin for error that might have existed in the past."

You wear a lot of different hats every day.  You’re very busy.  Running a business is a full-time job, and then some.  There just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day.  Quoting Stanyon again, "Stepping back from the day-to-day operations to look at the business strategically is a common problem for small independents." 

You’re the CEO of your business.  Your most important job is making the big decisions that drive the dollars to the bottom line.  That, along with meeting and interacting with your customers and staff, is the most important thing you can do every day.  It makes perfect sense to hire someone, either internally or externally to do the routine tasks that really aren’t worth your time.

But, be careful!  Hiring an accountant, for example, doesn’t relieve you of the responsibility of overseeing the work.  An accountant may know numbers, but he doesn’t necessarily understand your business.  That’s your job.

None of us knows everything.  Every day there seems to be more to know and less time to learn.  You need a strategic plan and you need to delegate the less-important things so you can focus on that plan.  A good plan should include learning goals for you and everyone in your organization. 

There are excellent resources available to the independent retailer to help develop a strategic plan.  It shouldn’t be complicated and it shouldn’t be expensive.  Check out some of the "Useful Links" on the left, or do a Google search for "strategic planning". 

As we mentioned in an earlier post, the Small Business Administration offers on-line courses on planning on their web site. If you need help, contact your local small business development center.  The Association of Small Business Development Centers website will direct you to your local SBDC.

The beginning of the new year is an excellent time to put a new strategic plan into effect.  Updated at least every year, it should help you focus your time and energy in the areas where you’re most effective, and that’s a win/win for everyone.




New Year’s Resolutions

For many of us, today’s the first working day of the new year.  January is usually a time of reflection on the year past and big plans for the year ahead; New Year’s resolutions.  Sadly, most resolutions last about as long as the Christmas decorations.  Our good intentions fade fast when we’re confronted with the daily realities of our lives, especially if you’re running your own business.

So, how do we make good on the promises we make to ourselves and avoid having them turn into faint memories by February 1?  Most of us run into problems with our resolutions because they’re either too vague, or too big.  For example, losing weight is always a popular resolution.  But, if we say "I’m going to lose weight this year", guess what?  It probably won’t happen.  For a goal to work it has to be specific, measurable, and believable.  "I’m going to lose 50 pounds" probably won’t work either.  While it’s specific, there’s no time table for us to measure and the number is too big for most of us to deal with.

Suppose we decide to lose four pounds by the end of January?  That’s more like it.  I can do that.  After all, it’s only one pound per week; just 2.3 ounces per day.  If 3,500 calories equals a pound, then I only have to cut out 500 calories each day (or burn 500 calories more) to reach my goal.

Then, if I can lose four pounds this month, there’s no reason why I can’t repeat the goal for February.  Twelve consecutive months of losing just 2.3 ounces per day and I’ve lost 50 pounds.

You can use the same principle for any resolution.  If you want to get organized in 2007 but your office looks like a tornado just blew through it, don’t try to do it all at once.  Start with one drawer and go from there.  If you’re a "stacker" (like I am), don’t try to clear off your whole desk in one day, start with a single stack.  If you try to tackle a big project all at once, you’ll soon get frustrated and quit.  But if you decide to get just one stack of papers off your desk today, at the end of the day you’ll have a sense of accomplishment that will drive you to deal with another stack tomorrow.

Use the bite-sized pieces approach to anything that’s worth doing.  If your goal is to increase your business 10% this year, think about what you can do to increase it 10% TODAY.  Depending on your business, that might be just one or two big sales per day.  The idea of making between 300 and 600 more big ticket sales in 2007 may sound like quite a stretch, one or two more per day is easier to work with.   Work backwards from your goal.  If you close one out of ten people, then you’ll have to talk to ten more people today to make one more sale.  If you work a ten hour day, that’s only one person per hour.  You get the idea.

Where are the ten people going to come from?  Break down your goal again.  If you know that sending out 100 postcards will bring ten people into the store, then 100 postcards per day will get you those ten prospects and, on average, you’ll ring up that extra sale.  200 postcards will get you two sales and 300 will get you three.

You may not even need more prospects.  Maybe you need to increase your closing percentage.  Maybe your goal is to show one extra item to every person who comes into your store.  That’s a goal that can be tracked and measured.  Think about your process for making sales and break it down into small, measurable tasks.

New Year’s resolutions are a great idea, if we have a plan.  Without a plan, resolutions are just wishes, and they probably won’t come true.

Another thing that will help you reach your goals is to share them with someone.  For example, my goal is to lose four pounds this month.  By telling a few hundred people, I’ve just put myself on the spot.  How about you?  What are your resolutions for 2007?